American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson had designs on winning gold at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics until a positive drug test dashed those hopes. Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva will continue the pursuit of her own gold medal aspirations at the winter games in Beijing this week, despite also testing positive for a banned substance.
The difference, as Richardson sees it, comes down to race.
“Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady,” Richardson, 21, tweeted on Monday.
That isn’t the only notable difference between the two cases. Richardson tested positive for cannabis –– not exactly known to enhance athletic performance –– while the 15-year-old Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that has been said to promote greater endurance in athletes.
Richardson was suspended for 30 days by the United States Anti-Doping Agency after testing positive for pot in late June, invalidating her victory in the women’s 100m race at the U.S. Olympic trials and ultimately keeping her out of the summer games in Tokyo.
After being dealt the suspension, Richardson said she turned to cannabis to cope with the unexpected death of her mother during the Olympic trials in June.
“It sent me into a state of emotional panic,” she said at the time. “I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.”
In September, the World Anti-Doping Agency said it would reconsider cannabis’ inclusion on its list of banned substances.
Valieva, meanwhile, has already struck gold once in Beijing this month, helping guide the Russian Olympic Committee to the top of the podium in the figure skating team event –– even though her positive test came on Christmas Day.
The International Olympic Committee postponed the medal ceremony for the team event, citing “legal issues” as reports mounted that a Russian skater had registered a positive drug test.
Last week, the International Testing Agency confirmed that Valieva had tested positive for trimetazidine, putting her status for the individual competition in jeopardy. Valieva was initially suspended by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, but that ruling was reversed a day later. The International Olympic Committee, along with the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Skating Union, appealed that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled in Valieva’s favor on Monday.
In its decision, the court cited “exceptional circumstances” and said that a ban would “cause her irreparable harm.”
On Tuesday, Valieva finished the short program with a lead in the individual competition, putting her in prime position to claim another gold.
In the case of both Richardson and Valieva, the decisions handed down by the governing bodies drew fierce criticism.
But while fellow athletes expressed sympathy to Richardson, Valieva’s peers strongly denounced the ruling by CAS.
According to NBC, trimetazidine, or TMZ, has been on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances since 2014, and is “categorized as a ‘hormone and metabolic modulator,’ which is illegal for athletes to use both in and out of competition.”
“It is believed that TMZ can improve physical efficiency, especially in the case of endurance sports, although opinions vary on how long-lasting the effect could be,” according to the primer from NBC. “TMZ is usually taken once or twice a day, and easy to detect in tests as a synthetic drug.”
Lawyers for Valieva have claimed that the positive drug test may have been the result of a glass of water that was contaminated with traces of her grandfather’s heart medication.