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A Sprinter and a Figure Skater

Sha’Carri Richardson and Kamila Valieva are atheltes of different sports with many similarities, and many differences. Today’s Undoing Racism post will explore these similarities and differences in the hopes of sparking a conversation on the inequalities that occur in professional sports as a result of inequalities present in society as a whole.

Who is Sha’Carri Richardson?

Sha’Carri Richardson is a track and field sprinter who came into the athletic spotlight in 2019, winning the NCAA Track and Field Championship. Her speed in this race marked her as one of the fastest women in the world, and the fastest in American history. This would qualify her to compete in the United States Olympic Trials, a precursor to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Richardson would take first place at the Olympic Trials, qualifying her to compete in the 2021 Olympic Games.

Who is Kamila Valieva?

Kamila Valieva is a Russian figure skater who has been winning international skating competitions since 2019, at the age of 13. She would go on to place first in the 2022 Russian Championships, earning her place on the Russian Olympic team. Valieva is the first skater in the world to land a quadruple jump at an Olympic competition. Her team (the Russian Olympic Champions or ROC) would win first place in the short program, as she would represent them in the free-skate event.

What do Sha’Carri and Kamila have in common?

Sha’Carri Richardson and Kamila Valieva are both athletes of the highest echelon. They are both world record holders in their respective sports, and their physical abilities exceed that of the majority.

Both Richardson and Valieva also tested positive for banned drugs while competing in Olympic games.

Sha’Carri Richardson tested positive for cannabis after her win at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Kamila Valieva tested positive for Trimetazidine, a drug that is commonly used to treat chest pain, but can also serve as an endurance booster for when exercising.

How are Kamila and Sha’Carri different?

Richardson and Valieva are competitors of different sports, in different age groups, and come from difference countries with different cultures.

One of their more interesting differences, though, is the way their positive drug tests were handled by the International Olympic Committee.

As a result of Richardson’s positive drug test, she was disqualified from competing in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Valieva, on the other hand, will still be allowed to compete in the coming Olympic skating competitions this year.

The circumstances surrounding their respective test results are also noteworthy. Richardson’s mother passed away just one week before she participating in her Olympic qualifying race. She admitted to smoking cannabis as a coping mechanism while grieving her mother’s death. The circumstances surrounding Valieva’s positive test result are still unclear – her lawyer argues that the substance belonged to her grandfather and that she unknowingly ingested it.

It is difficult to ignore, as well, that Richardson is black, and Valieva is white. Their racial identities are not insignifigant – to ignore this particular difference is to ignore something that both of them cannot rid themselves of. Kamila Valieva is a white teenager, and is treated by the world vastly differently from Sha’Carri Richardson, a black woman. The way that their individual cases were handled by Olympic administrators is a testament to this.

Olympic Games have a long documented history of both upholding white supremacist values and perpetuating systemic racism. They also present an opportunity to unify communities, if they truly want to. Sporting events are a microcosm of our society. Inequalities that occur day to day outside of these events can be magnified and examined differently in the context of a public sporting event. Athletes can use their public presence to protest and bring attention to social justice issues.

Are you following any Olympic sports this year? Share your thoughts with us in a comment below.

-Your friends at Undoing Racism

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