Australian pro surfer Mark Richardson busts his ass in the water to compete in the rarified air of the elite pro levels. Not just compete, mind you, win. In 2011 Richardson won the World Masters Championship after a grueling six-elimination heat competition.
But according to the International Surfing Association, he cheated because he had THC in his system. Because of that Richardson has been forced to return his medals more than two years after he won them.
Richardson is the first gold medalist to test positive for THC under the ISA system that was has allegedly been in place since 1992. He says that he knew he would be tested after the event, and says he was shocked to find out that it came up positive.
Richardson didn't shy away from admitting that he used cannabis in the past, but says the test must have detected trace residual amounts because he hadn't puffed prior to the event.
But what pisses Richardson off the most is that the ISA decided to make a public announcement about the failed test two years after it happened and nine months after he had handed back his medals. He feels he is being persecuted by the ISA now.
"I don't feel that I've done anything wrong because it was not performance-enhancing. I got no benefit from it. I feel like I'm being persecuted for nothing," he tells the Courier-Mail. "``It's such a shock that this has surfaced now after all this time. It has been an emotional roller coaster. This happened two years ago and was finalized nine months ago. I am at breaking point with this whole thing.''
The real kicker is that the World Anti-Doping Association, which governs the ISA testing policies, recently increased the level of THC allowable in an athlete to 150 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Keep in mind, that's inactive THC - which means professional athletes with low body fat can smoke pretty much up until the week of an event and still be within acceptable levels. We don't have the results of Richardson's positive test, so we can't say for sure, but we wonder if he even would have "failed" the test under the new rules.
Some even question whether or not the drug testing is being fairly enforced. American pro surfing legend Kelly Slater says he was only tested once in 2012.
In addition to his medal being taken away, Richardson was banned from the sport for three months and his team faced point penalties in the even. With Richardson's title stripped, Puerto Rican Carlos Cabrero was awarded the 2011 championship.