The World’s Fastest Man Won’t Be at the Olympics
A CAS panel reduced Christian Coleman’s ban from 24 months to 18, but he will still miss this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo
By Jonathan Gault
April 16, 2021
The Court of Arbitration of Sport announced on Friday that it was reducing the ban of Christian Coleman, the reigning 100-meter world champion who last year was banned for two years for three whereabouts failures by the Athletics Integrity Unit. Unfortunately for Coleman, his ban was reduced from 24 months to 18, which means he will still miss this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo. Coleman, 25, will be eligible to compete again on November 14, 2021.
Had the CAS panel overturned Coleman’s ban, he would have been the heavy favorite to take gold in the men’s 100 meters, the marquee event of the track & field program at the Olympic Games. Coleman earned the silver medal at the 2017 Worlds in London and gold at the 2019 Worlds in Doha, where he ran 9.76 seconds to become the sixth-fastest man in history. Now Coleman will have to wait until 2024 for his shot at Olympic glory — though he will be eligible to compete at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, Ore., in which Coleman receives a bye as defending champion.
The CAS decision brings an end to a saga that kicked off in June 2020, when Coleman announced on Twitter that he was facing a provisional two-year suspension for missing his third drug test in a 12-month period (all athletes in the World Athletics Registered Testing Pool must provide a one-hour window every day in which they are available for testing). Coleman appealed that provisional suspension to a World Athletics Disciplinary Tribunal, but the tribunal upheld the ban in October.
“The Athlete’s attitude to his obligations can fairly be described as entirely careless, perhaps even reckless,” the tribunal’s decision read, in part because Coleman had almost been suspended for missing three drug tests in 2019 until one of his tests was backdated.
Coleman’s last resort was to appeal the tribunal’s decision to the Court of Arbitration of Sport, which heard his case on February 15. Coleman’s appeal rested on the third missed test, which occurred on December 9, 2019. Coleman claimed he was Christmas shopping at a mall near his Lexington, Ky., home that night but made it home before the end of his window, which he had given as 7:15-8:15 p.m. Receipts from Chipotle and Walmart showed Coleman was lying about having made it home by the end of the window.
Coleman also alleged that the AIU intentionally tried to get him to miss a test that night, as the doping control officer (DCO) was under specific instructions not to call Coleman if he could not be reached — a step Coleman’s DCO had frequently taken during previous tests. However, a phone call is not required under WADA testing rules and AIU Out-of-Competition Manager Raphael Roux said he ordered the DCO not to call Coleman because there were several red flags that suggested Coleman could be doping, including his previous missed tests, strong recent performances, and that Roux “had an impression that [Coleman] might have been forewarned on previous tests.” Coleman has vehemently denied doping, and there is no evidence that he has ever taken performance-enhancing substances.
The CAS panel agreed with Coleman, saying it was “reasonable for the Athlete to expect such a call, as a matter of standard practice among other Doping Control Officers” and “had the Athlete been called by the Doping Control Officer, he would have been able to return to his apartment during the 60-minute window and a test would have been concluded.”
Yes the CAS panel also criticized Coleman for his laissez-faire attitude despite knowing that another missed test would trigger a suspension.
“The Athlete was not at home during the 60-minute time slot on the day of the out-of-competition doping control (9 December 2019), as he should have been, and the Athlete should have been on ‘high-alert’ on that day, given the two existing whereabouts failures against him,” the decision read.
With Coleman out of the picture and three-time reigning champion Usain Bolt retired, the Olympic 100-meter crown is wide open. Americans Noah Lyles, Trayvon Bromell, and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin are all serious contenders for the crown, along with 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada.
Quick Take by LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson:
Let me make three points. Considering in 2019, I said that Coleman should be drug tested every day for the rest of his career, what I’m about to write may surprise you:
- By the letter of law, Christain Coleman deserves to banned as he missed three tests in a one-year window, but this rubs me the wrong way. The summary states it was “reasonable” for him to expect a call as the DCOs had called in the past. If that’s the case, then he should not be banned. I’m sorry. You don’t kick an Olympic athlete out of the Olympics if it was reasonable for them to act in a certain way. The Supreme Court in the US honors precedent. CAS should have as well in this case.
2. The anti-doping authorities have a huge responsibility. The drug testers need to get a system down and follow it the same way, every single time. I view them the same way I view the police. They have a very important and difficult job, but one that requires full transparency. Moving forward, all of their attempts to drug test people should be documented with video.
3. That being said, Coleman can’t complain too much as the only reason he wasn’t banned in September 2019 as he got off thanks to the letter of the law as one of his tests was backdated. Plus he lied to the testers about coming back during the window.
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