With Christian Coleman Banned, Who Is the Men’s 100-Meter Favorite for the 2021 Olympics?

By Jonathan Gault
October 27, 2020

When the Athletics Integrity Unit announced on Tuesday that Christian Coleman‘s two-year ban for whereabouts failures had been upheld — after Coleman thought it was a good idea to go to Chipotle and Walmart instead of staying home during his drug testing window — the news rippled around the sport. Coleman, the reigning 100-meter world champion and the sixth-fastest man in history, will miss next year’s Olympics. Suddenly, the biggest prize in all of track & field (men’s Olympic 100 champ) and one of the greatest labels in all of sports (world’s fastest man) is up for grabs.

Which leads to one very big question: with Coleman gone, who is the men’s 100-meter favorite for next year’s Olympics?

Over the past three years, Coleman had established himself as the man to beat in Tokyo. He was the world leader in 2017 (9.82), the Diamond League champion and world leader in 2018 (9.79), and world champion and world leader in 2019 (9.76). He owns the five fastest times of this Olympic cycle, with a best of 9.76 — no one else has gone faster than 9.86.

But Coleman, barring an overturn of his case by the Court of Arbitration for Sport or a reduction of his penalty from two years to one, isn’t eligible to compete until May 13, 2022. Who will step up in his absence? Probably one of the men below. Here’s how I handicap it:

Lyles anchoring the US 4×100 to gold in Doha last year (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF)

Noah Lyles

USA, 23 years old
Personal best: 9.86 (2019)

He’s the 200-meter world champion and the fourth-fastest man ever at that distance (19.50). And he’s proven to be a very capable 100-meter runner as well — he’s the reigning Diamond League champion, and his 9.86 personal best from Shanghai last year puts him in a tie for the second-fastest man of this Olympic cycle after Coleman. That 9.86 in Shanghai was also important because Lyles beat Coleman in that race — Coleman’s only loss over 100m since May 2018.

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Lyles’ youth and 200m personal best suggest he is capable of going even faster over 100 meters, and if he dips into the 9.7’s, there may be no one else able to catch him in Tokyo. Lyles hasn’t doubled before at a global championship — in fact, last year was his first appearance at a senior global championship, period — but since the 100 is first in Tokyo, his 200 duties shouldn’t have much of an effect.

Odds to win gold: 2 to 1 (33.3%) He’s not an overwhelming favorite like Coleman, but based on his last three years, Lyles deserves to be the Olympic favorite.

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Andre De Grasse

Canada, 25 years old
Personal best: 9.90 (2019)

De Grasse battled hamstring injuries in 2017 and 2018, but, finally healthy again last year, rebounded by taking 200m silver and 100m bronze at the World Championships in Doha. Though De Grasse has never broken 9.90, his international medal record speaks for itself: bronze at the 2015 Worlds in the 100, silver (200) and bronze (100) at the 2016 Olympics, and those two medals last year.

Odds to win gold: 3 to 1 (25%) De Grasse’s medal odds are excellent, and he’s super consistent. But Lyles is younger with a higher ceiling.

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Trayvon Bromell

USA, 25 years old
Personal best: 9.84 (2016)

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Bromell has been a phenom since his teenage days. As an 18-year-old freshman at Baylor University in 2014, he ran 9.97 to win the NCAA title and become the youngest man in history to break 10 seconds in the 100. The following year, he ran 9.84 as a 19-year-old and earned a bronze medal at the World Championships.

After placing 8th in the 2016 Olympic final, Bromell went through injury hell and barely competed over the next three years. But after joining coach Rana Reider‘s group last year — where he trains alongside former NCAA rival De Grasse — Bromell has made tremendous progress. This summer, Bromell ran 9.90, just .06 off his personal best. With another year to go until Tokyo, Bromell could be very dangerous, assuming he can stay healthy.

Odds to win gold: 4 to 1 (20%) A year ago, the idea that Bromell would be 4 to 1 to win gold in Tokyo would have sounded ridiculous. But he’s a mega talent and the clock doesn’t lie: 9.90 is seriously fast.

Divine Oduduru

Nigeria, 24 years old
Personal best: 9.86 (2019)

The 2019 NCAA champion at 100 and 200 meters for Texas Tech, Oduduru is tied with Lyles and Michael Norman for the second-fastest time of this Olympic cycle (9.86) and is still only 24 years old. But Oduduru has never made it to a global championship final: he went out in the 200 semis at the 2016 Olympics, didn’t run at the 2017 Worlds, and went out in the 200 semis again at the 2019 Worlds.

Odds to win gold: 8 to 1 (11.11%) The talent is there, but Oduduru needs to show he can do it at the highest level.

Ronnie Baker

USA, 27 years old
Personal best: 9.87 (2018)

Baker was the world #2 in 2018, beating Coleman twice that season and finishing second to Lyles at USAs. He also took bronze at World Indoors that year and is the third-fastest man in history at 60 meters (6.40). Hamstring and adductor injuries meant he raced just once in 2019 — he still managed to finish 5th at USAs — but if he’s healthy (notice a trend on this list?), he will be a factor in Tokyo.

Odds to win gold: 10 to 1 (9.09%)  Baker is 27 and hasn’t even made a US team outdoors. Going from that to Olympic champ would be quite a story.

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Justin Gatlin

USA, 38 years old
Personal best: 9.74 (2015)  

Gatlin will be 39 years old by the time of the Olympic final, but so far he has shown a remarkable ability to defy the actuarial tables. While his in-season times have slowed in recent years, Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champ, has always been a big-meet performer, winning gold at the 2017 Worlds at age 35 and silver behind Coleman in 2019 at age 37.

Gatlin served a four-year ban from 2006 to 2010 for the presence of “testosterone or its precursors.” It would be crazy if Coleman’s ban resulted in a convicted drug cheat winning an Olympic title at the age of 39 — an outcome that would satisfy few in the sport.

Odds to win gold: 12 to 1 (7.69%) A 39-year-old is not winning the Olympic 100m title. Gatlin’s track record is impressive, but at some point Father Time comes for us all.

Michael Norman

USA, 22 years old
Personal best: 9.86 (2020)

Norman blasted a world-leading 9.86 this year in his first 100-meter race since high school. But Norman’s best event is the 400 meters, and it’s unlikely he drops that next year to focus on the 100 (the Olympic schedule makes the 100/400 double very tough and would require running a 400 prelim on the morning of the 100 final).

Odds to win gold: 50 to 1 (1.96%) It’s unlikely that Norman even runs the 100 next year, let alone wins Olympic gold. If I thought he was actually going to run it, his odds would be much lower.

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Usain Bolt

Jamaica, 34 years old
Personal best: 9.58 (2009)

Yes, he’s been retired since 2017. But Bolt has admitted he’s considered coming back to the sport, and other than Coleman, no one has run faster than 9.86 during this Olympic cycle — a time prime Bolt could run in his sleep. There’s no one out there to scare him.

Obviously Bolt is no longer in his prime, but maybe a few years off is just what his body needed to heal the nagging back injury that hastened his retirement. And while he’s already the sprinting GOAT, a fourth straight individual Olympic gold could be the motivation he needs to come back for one more year. Only Carl Lewis (long jump) and Al Oerter (discus) have ever done that.

Odds to win gold: 100 to 1 (.99%) Bolt coming out of retirement would be an incredible story for the sport. But if he wasn’t going to do it in 2020, it’s hard to imagine him changing course and doing it in 2021 — although Coleman’s retirement probably boosted the odds.

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