Sha’Carri Richardson—the track star who was dramatically suspended from the U.S. Olympic team this week after failing a drug test for marijuana—has spoken out about her heartbreak, telling NBC News that she turned to pot to cope after a reporter told her that her biological mom had died.
Richardson was interviewed on Today on Friday morning, and was quick to take responsibility for her actions—but explained that she was trying to cope with the “emotional panic” of learning about her biological mother’s death during a media appearance days before her Olympic trials.
“I was just thinking it would be a normal interview,” said Richardson, who is 21. “But to hear that information coming from a complete stranger, it was definitely triggering, it was definitely nerve-shocking.” Richardson said she then used marijuana to deal with that distress, explaining: “I know I can’t hide myself, so... in some type of way, I was trying to hide my pain.”
“People don’t understand what it’s like to have to… go in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain,” Richardson told host Savannah Guthrie. “Who am I to tell you how to cope when you’re dealing with the pain or you’re dealing with a struggle that you haven’t experienced before or that you thought you never would have to deal with?”
Even with that important context, Richardson said that she knew the rules around taking banned drugs and that she shouldn’t have broken them.
“I know what I did and what I’m not supposed to do,” she said. “I know what I’m not allowed to do and I still made that decision. Not making an excuse or looking for any empathy... but being in that position of my life and finding out something like that... that definitely was a heavy topic.”
The track star added: “Don’t judge me because I am human.”
Richardson became a gold-medal hopeful when she won her 100m trial in 10.86 seconds last month. However, she tested positive after those events so her result was erased, and she accepted a 30-day suspension that ends July 27. It’s still possible that she could run in the relays at the Tokyo Olympics, but she will not compete in the solo 100m.
However, Richardson said that she’s now focusing on herself—not on whether she’ll be able to compete in Japan next month. “I’m just putting all of my time and energy into dealing with what I need to do, which is heal myself,” she said. “So if I’m allowed to receive that blessing, then I’m grateful for it, but if not, right now I’m going to just focus on myself.”
The track star went on to apologize to everyone who has supported her during an emotional year of highs and lows.
“As much as I’m disappointed, I know that when I step on the track, I don’t represent myself. I represent a community that has shown me great support, great love, and I failed you all,” she said. “So I apologize for the fact that I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions... I greatly apologize if I let you guys down, and I did.”
The CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis T. Tygart, said in a Friday statement: “The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her.”