The World’s Fastest Man May Be Banned From The Olympics and World Championships: Analyzing The Christian Coleman Situation

August 22, 2019

According to Matt Lawton of The Daily Mail, 23-year-old American Christian Coleman, the world leader in the 100 meters this year (9.81 seconds) and last (9.79) and the world record holder indoors at 60 meters (6.34), has registered three whereabouts violations and is now in jeopardy of missing the 2019 Worlds and 2020 Olympics.

Coleman ran a world-leading 9.81 in the 100 meters at the Prefontaine Classic in June

Top track and field athletes like Coleman, who was a five-time NCAA champion collegiately for the University of Tennessee, have to provide their location each day for a one-hour period for a potential out-of-competition drug test. Three failures to provide that information or to be where you are supposed to be for a potential test within a 12-month period result in a whereabouts anti-doping infraction. Unlike positive tests, which normally result in a four-year ban, a whereabouts violation results in a two-year ban. However, according to the IAAF’s Anti-Doping Rules, a whereabouts violation can be reduced to one year “depending on the Athlete’s degree of Fault. The flexibility between two years and one year of Ineligibility in this Article is not available to Athletes where a pattern of last-minute whereabouts changes or other conduct raises a serious suspicion that the Athlete was trying to avoid being available for Testing.”

According to Lawton, Coleman is disputing one of the whereabouts failures in an effort to get the ban overturned with “high level ongoing discussions between WADA, USADA and the IAAF’s Athletics Integrity Unit about the case.”

Quick Take Analysis #1: It doesn’t get much bigger than this

The world’s fastest man is challenging a minimum one-year ban from the sport. Coleman is the best athlete in the most popular event in track and field and one of the biggest names in the entire sport. Now he could miss not only this year’s World Championships, but next year’s Olympics as well, since his ban would presumably prevent him from competing at the US Olympic Trials (June 19-28, 2020). It’s hard to overstate how big this news is and how bad the timing is. If this happened at the beginning of June, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal as he could get still go to the Olympics.

Of course, it’s far from unprecedented in track & field. Back in 2006, Justin Gatlin was the reigning world and Olympic 100-meter champion and had just tied the world record when he was handed a four-year ban for “testosterone or its precursors.” And Canada’s Ben Johnson was famously busted for stanozolol just three days after winning Olympic gold in 1988. Coleman’s situation is a little different — he would not be banned for anything he took, but for missing three tests. 

Of the 11 men in history to run 9.80 or faster, all but Usain Bolt have been banned or linked to an anti-doping infraction.

  1. 9.58 Usain Bolt
  2. 9.69 Tyson Gay — banned for one year for steroids in 2013
  3. 9.69 Yohan Blake — banned for three months for stimulant in 2009
  4. 9.72 Asafa Powell — banned for six months for stimulant in 2013
  5. 9.74 Justin Gatlin — banned for amphetamines in 2001 (one year), testosterone in 2006 (four years)
  6. 9.78 Nesta Carter — failed test for stimulant at 2008 Olympics, banned for three months
  7. 9.78 Tim Montgomery — banned for two years in 2005 for involvement in BALCO scandal; later admitted to taking testosterone and HGH
  8. 9.79 Christian Coleman — facing potential 1-2 year ban for 3 whereabouts failure in 2019
  9. 9.79 Maurice Greene allegedly paid for steroids in 2003 and 2004 (Greene denied the allegations)
  10. 9.79 Ben Johnson – banned for two years after testing positive for Stanozolol at 1988 Olympics (Johnson’s time was invalidated).
  11. 9.80 Steve Mullings — banned for testosterone in 200 (two years), banned for life for masking agent in 2011

Quick Take #2: If Coleman is out, convicted doper Justin Gatlin, at age 37, becomes the favorite for Worlds

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We are sure that track fans around the world are going to love the fact that, if the world’s best 100-meter man is banned, the favorite for the world title is a 37-year-old who has already served a four-year doping ban and is running unprecedented times for a man his age.

We know IAAF president Seb Coe won’t be happy about it. He openly rooted against Gatlin at the 2015 Worlds and after Gatlin won the 2017 Worlds in London, Coe said he wasnot eulogistic at the thought of somebody who has served two bans in our sport walking off with one of the biggest prizes our sport has to offer.”

Of course, Coe — and the general public — have a right to be skeptical of Gatlin given his history. And given that one of Gatlin’s newest training partners recently told that Gatlin is once again being coached by another former doper, Dennis Mitchell, after Gatlin said he cut ties with him after the 2017 season.

Make no mistake though: Gatlin would be the favorite. Only four men have broken 9.90 this year. Two of them — Coleman and Noah Lyles — won’t be running the 100 at Worlds. Gatlin is the third at 9.87, .01 behind NCAA champ Divine Oduduru of Nigeria. But Oduduru has been going hard since January and looked awful in his one post-NCAA meet (he finished last in Monaco in 10.26). He’s also never made a global final and has never run the 100 at Worlds or the Olympics. Gatlin, meanwhile, is a proven championship contender, didn’t have to run an NCAA final this year, and has looked great in all his Diamond Leagues this year (9.87 behind Coleman at Pre, 9.91 win in Lausanne, 9.92 win in Monaco).

If Coleman is off of Team USA, Cravon Gillespie, who was fourth at USAs in the 100, would be in line to replace him.

Quick Take #3: Does Noah Lyles regret not doubling now?

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Lyles made the decision to only run the 200 at USAs/Worlds this year, and at the time, it was totally understandable. He has yet to run a global championship and wanted to maximize his chances of gold in the 200 rather than bite off more than he could chew by doubling.

We do wonder though, whether Lyles is kicking himself after this news. Gatlin would still be tough to beat in Doha — he beat Lyles by .01 when they raced in Monaco on July 12 — but he would have faced a much easier path without Coleman. The good news for Lyles is that his chances for double gold in Tokyo next year could have just skyrocketed.

Coleman broke the 60-meter world record in 2018

Quick Take #4: What will Coleman’s legacy be?

While it carries a potential two-year penalty, three whereabouts failures is not the same as a positive drug test. Just two years ago, 2016 Olympic 100 hurdles champion Brianna Rollins-McNeal was banned for the entire 2017 season after she registered three whereabouts failures. When McNeal returned to the sport last year, she did not face the kind of criticism and scrutiny that would accompany a convicted doper. Likewise, British 400-meter runner Christine Ohuruogu was banned for three whereabouts failures in 2005 and 2006 but came back to win two world titles and the 2008 Olympic title.

Coleman, as a men’s 100-meter runner, however, is a much bigger name than Rollins-McNeal or Ohuruogu. If he is banned, it will be interesting to see how he is received upon his return — and how his suspension affects his legacy.

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More: Daily Mail: World’s Fastest Man Christian Coleman ‘has missed THREE drugs tests’

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