U.S. sprinter: It’s racist to ban me from the Olympics for failing a drug test while Russia’s skater gets to compete

I doubt racism explains this double standard but it’s so grievously unjust that I don’t fault Sha’Carri Richardson for assuming the worst. She’s been railroaded.

Remember her? She’s the champion U.S. sprinter who was marked for gold at the summer Olympics until she failed a drug test at the Olympic trials in Oregon. That drug was marijuana, which is legal in Oregon and doesn’t enhance performance. (It may even retard it.) And Richardson didn’t smoke it recreationally, she said afterward, she smoked it to cope with the shock of learning that her mother had suddenly died.

None of which mattered to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code. Weed is a no-no. Richardson, the potential golden girl, was suspended and would miss the Olympics. Rules are rules.

Fast-forward eight months. Kamila Valieva is Russia’s star figure skater. She’s already won one gold at the Beijing Games, anchoring Russia’s squad in the team competition, and is a heavy favorite in the upcoming individual competition. But news broke a few days ago she had failed a drug test in December, something which somehow only became known to the relevant authorities within the last few days. That drug was trimetazidine, a heart medication that is performance-enhancing. “If you’re in a highly exertional sport, where you’re using a lot of energy and you’re putting your heart under significant stress, it certainly could help your heart function better theoretically,” one expert told Reuters.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that Valieva is competing for “Russia.” She’s competing for the “Russian Olympic Committee,” which operates under the Olympic flag instead of the Russian one. Why? Because Russia is currently banned from competing at the Games as a nation due to its history of … state-sponsored doping of athletes to gain a competitive edge.

How did the Russian Anti-Doping Agency deal with Valieva after learning of drug test, you may ask? Well, first they banned her from competition effective immediately — and then they lifted the provisional ban a day later. The World Anti-Doping Agency then filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration of Sport seeking to have Valieva barred from the Games. The CAS’s ruling: An investigation would be launched into the circumstances of her positive test but until then Valieva would … be allowed to continue competing at the Olympics.

Observers are shocked, none more so than Sha’Carri Richardson. Why does the Russian get to live out her Olympic dream after a positive test while Richardson had to watch the Games from home? She has a theory and she’s not being shy about sharing it on social media today:

Is that it? The white athlete gets the benefit of the doubt while the black athlete gets zero tolerance?

It’s more complicated than that. One key difference between Richardson and Valieva are their ages. Richardson is 21, Valieva is 15 — not that far apart in years but far apart legally. Minors are “protected persons” under anti-doping rules, which is why banning Valieva is being described in terms of “irreparable harm.” Her coaches and doctors are in trouble because, as the adults around her, they’re obviously the ones who would have procured trimetazidine for her. But because Valieva is under 16, her punishment could be as little as a reprimand, per CBS.

Which increases the incentive for underaged athletes to dope, right? Teenagers compete at a world-class level in certain women’s sports like figure-skating and gymnastics. Go figure that, to maximize a 15-year-old’s chances of winning gold and bringing glory to Russia, the adults around Valieva might have given her a PED in the hope/expectation that she wouldn’t be stripped of her titles even if she were found out.

Why wouldn’t they cheat even at an Olympics where they’re ostensibly being punished for cheating?

There’s another mystery here, one flagged by Richardson in her tweet about how quickly her failed test was known compared to Valieva’s. Why did it take two months for Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency and Olympic authorities to find out that Valieva had tested positive for a PED? Her test should have been known and her ban adjudicated before the Games began, not after. The World Anti-Doping Agency is suspicious about the timing:

Concerning the analysis of the athlete’s sample, WADA always expects Anti-Doping Organizations to liaise with the laboratories in order to ensure they expedite the analysis of samples so that the results are received prior to athletes traveling to or competing in a major event, such as the Olympic or Paralympic Games and, where applicable, conduct results management of the cases related to such athletes.

According to information received by WADA, the sample in this case was not flagged by RUSADA as being a priority sample when it was received by the anti-doping laboratory in Stockholm, Sweden. This meant the laboratory did not know to fast-track the analysis of this sample.

Fancy that. For some odd reason, the Russian doping authorities forgot to expedite analysis of a drug sample by the most celebrated Russian athlete at the Games. You don’t suppose these famously corrupt people had an inkling that Valieva might be doping and wanted to make sure no one found out until after she’d won gold, do you?

A famous legal adage is that “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” It’s possible that Valieva will be stripped retroactively of her gold medals as the doping investigation plays out, but it’s also possible that the authorities will be loath to snatch them away from a 15-year-old who’s a victim of the avaricious adults around her. If you were a corrupt Russian official, you’d much prefer to have the ruling on Valieva be issued after she’s already in possession of those medals than beforehand, banning her from the Games altogether. Which would give you a strong incentive to slow-walk her drug test results.

I’ll leave you with one more point from the World Anti-Doping Agency statement, just to highlight how irregular the treatment of Valieva has been: “[I]t appears that the CAS panel decided not to apply the terms of the [World Anti-Doping] Code, which does not allow for specific exceptions to be made in relation to mandatory provisional suspensions for ‘protected persons’, including minors.” Sounds like they invented a special rule just for Valieva. Why couldn’t they have done that for Richardson when she tested positive for a non-PED?

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