Sha’Carri Richardson’s first-place finish in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 19 captured the attention and hearts of many people across the country, including former first lady Michelle Obama. But more than a week after the race, on July 2, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced that Richardson had accepted a one-month suspension after she tested positive for the urinary metabolite in THC, a psychoactive component in marijuana.
News of Richardson’s positive drug test and suspension was met with strong reactions from people questioning whether marijuana use should be allowed. But others compared Richardson’s situation to Michael Phelps, saying the former Olympic swimmer also tested positive for marijuana and, unlike Richardson, was able to compete in the Olympics.
Did Michael Phelps compete in the Olympics after testing positive for marijuana?
No, Michael Phelps never tested positive for marijuana, although Phelps was suspended after a photo showed him holding a marijuana pipe to his mouth. However, the timing of Phelps’ suspension did not overlap with the Olympics.
WHAT WE FOUND
There are a couple of factors that make Sha’Carri Richardson’s and Michael Phelps’ situations different. One is that Phelps never tested positive for marijuana.
In 2009, a British newspaper published a photo that showed Phelps with his mouth on what appeared to be a marijuana pipe. In a Feb. 1, 2009, Facebook post, Phelps released a statement saying he “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment.”
USA Swimming responded by suspending Phelps for three months.
But the biggest difference between Phelps and Richardson is the timing of their suspensions. Phelps’ suspension came less than a year after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he won a record eight gold medals. So, while he was suspended for three months, the suspension had no impact on his participation in the Olympics because the next summer games were not until 2012.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) says Richardson tested positive for marijuana from a sample taken on June 19, 2021 – the day she won the 100-meter race and qualified for the Olympics.
Richardson told the TODAY Show that she takes responsibility for her actions and that the positive drug test came after she ingested marijuana in Oregon, where marijuana is legal, while coping with the death of her biological mother. Her suspension began on June 28, less than a month before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
In a summary of prohibited drugs, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is designated as a “substance of abuse,” along with cocaine, heroin and MDMA/ecstasy. WADA says prohibited substances of abuse are “frequently abused in society outside of the context of sport.”
Cannabinoids, which include marijuana and hashish, are prohibited in competition, meaning “the period commencing just before midnight (at 11:59 p.m.) on the day before a competition in which the athlete is scheduled to participate until the end of the competition and the sample collection process.”
According to the 2021 WADA code, suspensions for a positive test can be reduced to three months if the athlete can prove the use of the “substance of abuse” was out of competition and unrelated to sport performance. That suspension can be further reduced to one month if the athlete completes a treatment program, which the USADA says Richardson did.
The positive test invalidated Richardson’s win in the 100-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She was also not selected by USA Track & Field to compete in the 4x-100-meter relay race that takes place after her suspension is over.
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