Christian Coleman Is the New King of the 100 Meters — And All That Comes With It

By Jonathan Gault
September 28, 2019

DOHA, Qatar — The men’s 100 meters officially has a new king. 

Meet after meet, American Christian Coleman has dominated track & field’s marquee event following the retirement of Usain Bolt in 2017. But with no World Championships in 2018 and a very late Worlds in 2019, he had to wait longer than usual to claim his throne as 100-meter world champion.

After what he did tonight at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, there is no doubt: Coleman is the finest 100-meter runner in the world. And it’s not particularly close. 

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Coleman got his usual fast start, had a clear lead by halfway, and dominated the final 50 meters to win in 9.76 — a personal best that now makes him the sixth-fastest man of all time. Once he crossed the line, he took a quick left turn around the curve, soaking in the finest moment of a day he described as the best of his 23-year-old life. No other competitors were in sight, and that’s how it felt during the race itself as Coleman won by a monstrous margin, .13 of a second.

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37-year-old Justin Gatlin, who only got into the final as a time qualifier, continued to defy the actuarial tables by claiming his fifth World Championship medal, a silver in 9.89 seconds, with Andre De Grasse of Canada clocking a personal best of 9.90 to take third — the same spot he occupied four years ago in Beijing.

But the story tonight was Coleman, who now rules over the biggest event in track and field. Just like kings, track fans don’t get to elect the world champion. We’re stuck with them, warts and all. The blotch on Coleman’s resume? Three times within a 12-month period, Coleman told anti-doping authorities he was in one location when, in fact, he was in another, thus avoiding three drug tests. This is indisputable.

Some can ignore the warts. Coleman correctly points out that he was cleared by WADA, that he has never failed a test, and that his only crimes are ignorance and forgetfulness.

“We’re human beings,” Coleman said in a video posted to his YouTube channel on September 11. “And nobody’s perfect. People make mistakes. People have things going on in their life.”

Coleman released that video — over the protests of his agent Emanuel Hudson — because he believes that, given the choice, track fans will choose to believe in him 

“I feel like logic will prevail in this type of situation,” Coleman said after his win tonight.

But much of the track fan base is a skeptical lot, particularly when it comes to the men’s 100 meters. So many of the event’s stars — Gatlin, Ben Johnson, Linford Christie — have served doping bans that some will always wonder: could an athlete with everything to lose truly be so careless as to unintentionally register three whereabouts failures?

It completely disqualifies him from ever being that face of the sport,” sprint legend Michael Johnson told the BBC earlier this week. “This will follow him, as it should.”

Johnson is correct on the latter, but not the former. Coleman may not be the face the sport wants, but the men’s 100-meter world champion is always a face of the sport, just as Gatlin was and continues to be.

Championship finals have a way of revealing these truths, just as the spectacular technicolor light show that preceded this final could not paper over the thousands of empty seats for the most important track race of the year — the cost of the deal the IAAF struck five years ago when it handed these championships to Qatar.

The pre-race lights show was spectacular

However you feel about Coleman, get used to it. Of the doubts surrounding him, his on-track brilliance is not one of them. Two years ago in London, in a race that included Bolt, Coleman almost claimed the world title, leading for 90 meters but falling to silver as Gatlin passed him just before the finish (Bolt was third). Tonight, Coleman married his brilliant start — always his biggest strength — with a strong second half and was untouchable. Noah Lyles, the only man to beat Coleman over 100 this year, could perhaps challenge him in next year’s Olympics in Tokyo, though his personal best of 9.86 is a full tenth slower than what Coleman ran tonight.

During the end of the Bolt era, the battle for the title of world’s greatest 100-meter runner was, too often, reduced to good vs. evil, the savior Bolt versus the convicted doper Gatlin. It was an oversimplification — the reputation of a sport depends more on the result of a 10-second race — but it laid bare the essential conflict of a track fan: to believe or not to believe. In Coleman, track now has its perfect test case.

Analysis and results below video:

1 Christian COLEMAN USA 9.76 WL 0.128
2 Justin GATLIN USA 9.89 0.148
3 Andre DE GRASSE CAN 9.90 PB 0.14
4 Akani SIMBINE RSA 9.93 SB 0.117
5 Yohan BLAKE JAM 9.97 0.142
6 Zharnel HUGHES GBR 10.03 0.119
7 Filippo TORTU ITA 10.07 SB 0.158
8 Aaron BROWN CAN 10.08 0.155

Quick Takes by staff

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Quick Take: Coleman equaled Bolt in one sense

Usain Bolt became a household name at the 2008 Olympics not only because he won the Olympics with a world record, but because he did so in massive fashion, winning by a ridiculous .20 of a second despite letting up in the finish line (and still running a world record of 9.69). Winning is nice, but winning with style points grabs people’s attention.

At the 2009 Worlds, Bolt did it again, winning in a world record and with a massive margin of victory — 9.58 and 0.13. 0.13 is the largest margin of victory that Bolt ever recorded in his three 100-meter World Championship titles and is the same margin of victory for Coleman tonight. 

Coleman’s margin of victory definitely should catch some people’s attention. For the record, in winning his six global titles at 100 meters counting the Olympics, Bolt won by .20, 13, .12, .08, .01, and .09.

The pre-race lights show was spectacular

Largest margins of victory in WC history.
.18 – 2005 Worlds – Justin Gatlin won in 9.88
.16 – 2011 Worlds – Yohan Blake won in 9.92
.15 – 1987 Worlds – Carl Lewis won in 9.93
.14 – 1983 Worlds – Carl Lewis won in 10.07
.13 – 2009 and 2019 Worlds – Usain Bolt won in 9.59 and Christian Coleman won in 9.76.

QT: Gatlin still going strong at 37

Prior to the Usain Bolt era, there was Justin Gatlin. Post-Usain Bolt, there still is Justin Gatlin. And if you think he intends to start slowing down think again.

After he picked up his silver, Gatlin said, “Christian has had a spectacular season and I knew he’d be tough to beat. He ran a great race, but I have a message for next year — I’m coming. He’d better be ready.”

If Coleman runs his best, he shouldn’t have to worry about Gatlin because a 24-year-old sprinter in his prime should take down a 38-year-old one, but Gatlin’s longevity is unbelievable. He was the Olympic champ in 2004 and world champ in 2005. He then served a four-year doping ban and now 15 years from his first medal is still #2 in the world.

Coleman did a nice job of putting that in perspective. 

“I remember watching him back in 2004 when I was eight years old and to think all these years later I could come and win gold too is a great feeling,” Coleman said.

With Coleman only 23 and De Grasse 24, the future of the 100 looks very bright. But injuries can sideline any top 100 man. Remember Trayvon Bromell? He tied for the bronze with De Grasse as a 20-year-old at the 2015 World Champs, but after competing at the 2016 Olympics injured, he has not been back on the circuit. De Grasse himself (see below) has shown the road back to the top is not easy.

QT: De Grasse is back

After tying Bromell for the bronze in 2015, De Grasse stayed healthy and took the next step forward in 2016, winning silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200. However, just prior to the 2017 Worlds he suffered a hamstring injury. Another hamstring injury limited him for most of 2018 and the road back to the podium was not easy. He made the decision to switch coaches late last year from Stuart McMillan to Rana Reider, and this year gradually improved throughout the season. De Grasse said the late World Champs definitely helped him this year and now he is back on the podium with a personal best.

Press Conference Update:

The top 3 press conference is over and a lot of questions directed to Coleman were about his whereabouts failures. Coleman was not fazed by the questions, but also did not want to admit to being careless with the missed tests. We’ll have more on this later but you can watch below.

In part II below he was asked about trying to beat Noah Lyles and trying to be the next Usain Bolt.

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