By Jonathan Gault
November 18, 2020
“It’s [sic] was my mistake.”
That was the first sentence of the Facebook post Elijah Manangoi wrote on Saturday after the Athletics Integrity Unit confirmed his two-year suspension for whereabouts failures.
My mistake. How rare is that, in this Year of Whereabouts Failures?
Wilson Kipsang invented a landslide rather than cop to his whereabouts failures. Christian Coleman painted himself as the subject of an AIU witch hunt rather than admit that Christmas shopping and Chipotle took priority over fulfilling his whereabouts obligations. Rather than admit responsibility for failing to follow the rules of a system that 99% of athletes manage to comply with, they spun fairy tales or found someone else to blame.
So yes, it was pleasantly surprising to see Manangoi, the 2017 world champion over 1500 meters, actually own up to his mistake.
“I have received the verdict from AIU and as I sit here, I have acknowledged that I made a mistake on my Whereabouts failures and I have accepted their decisions, though it will be difficult to forgive myself,” Manangoi continued. “I’m sorry for disappointing my country, Athletics Kenya, my management, my coach, and all whom I have betrayed their trust. I would like to urge my fellow athletes both in Kenya and abroad to seriously take care of their own whereabouts to avoid unnecessary sanctions, it seems simple but a slight mistake can be costly at the end. It’s shameful. I’m a clean athlete and I will be back and win right.”
I know what some of you are thinking right now. Gault’s a sucker. Anyone who runs 3:28 and misses three tests must be doping. Why should we have any sympathy for this guy?
Well, because Elijah Manangoi, in addition to being ridiculously fast, is a human being. And because there is room for nuance. And because that sympathy only extends so far.
Elijah Manangoi, 100%, should be banned from the sport of athletics right now. He missed two tests in 2019, and, rather than take every step to ensure he did not miss another, Manangoi delegated the updating of his whereabouts information to a third party, who ultimately caused him to miss a third test. Manangoi, quite plainly, did not meet his whereabouts responsibilities.
I also don’t know whether the final line of Manangoi’s statement — I’m a clean athlete — is true. It could be. But I don’t know whether it’s true of any of the athletes I cover, and quite frankly, missing three tests is a red flag. The whereabouts system is forgiving; if you register three failures in 12 months, you’re either seriously careless, or you have something to hide.
And Manangoi’s explanations do raise some eyebrows. For his first missed test, Manangoi claimed he tried to change his location for an 8-9 a.m. test but could not because it was already past midnight — yet athletes are allowed to change their one-hour window up to one minute before it is set to begin. For his second missed test, he claimed he was delayed by a traffic jam at 5 a.m., causing him to miss his 5-6 a.m. testing window.
But the larger point here: in actually admitting his mistake, Manangoi has done something exceptionally rare in the world of athletics. And not just any mistake: a devastating, career-altering mistake. In 2016, Manangoi had to scratch from his Olympic semifinal because of a hamstring injury. He was denied the chance to defend his world title last year due to an ankle injury. Now he will miss perhaps his last, best shot at Olympic glory because of something that was entirely his own doing. Yet rather than lash out at the AIU or the media, Manangoi pinned the blame on himself and accepted his ban.
It’s a notably different approach to the one employed by 100-meter world champion Christian Coleman. When Coleman revealed in June that he was facing a two-year suspension for whereabouts failures (since confirmed; he is appealing the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport), Coleman admitted culpability for just one of his three missed tests. But he spent most of a lengthy tweet castigating the AIU for failing to call him when he could not be located — while failing to take responsibility for going Christmas shopping during his one-hour window while sitting on two missed tests.
“I have no idea what I could have done to avoid this,” Coleman wrote.
Well it’s pretty simple. Be where you say you’re going to be for one hour each day.
There will be a portion of track’s fanbase who will never forgive Manangoi or Coleman, a portion that believes anyone who records three whereabouts failures must be doping because nobody could be foolish enough to do it by mistake. Their reputations will never fully recover.
But not everyone feels that way. Both men are eligible to return to competition in 2022. And for those who believe in forgiveness, Manangoi’s public contrition is a massive first step — one that Coleman has yet to take.
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- Oct. 2020: Christian Coleman’s Ban For Missing Three Drug Tests Is Upheld; World’s Fastest Man Will Miss the 2021 Olympics
- Oct. 2020: 2020 Has Been the Year of Whereabouts Failures. Why?
- June 2020: In Christian Coleman Case, Track & Field Cannot Win
- June 2020: World’s Fastest Man May Face An Olympic Ban For Missing Yet Another Drug Test
- Sept. 2019: Why Was Christian Coleman Cleared? We Explain Everything You Need to Know About His USADA Case
- Sept. 2019: How Does the Whereabouts System Work for a Professional Athlete? We Asked Jenny Simpson to Explain It
- Sept. 2019: Christian Coleman’s Dad Blasts LetsRun Co-Founder Robert Johnson after Johnson says Coleman should be drug tested every day for the rest of his career. “Robert Johnson is an unprofessional, irresponsible hack and an idiot … and I have no problem tell him to his face.”