Thirteen months ago Christian Coleman powered to 100m World Championship glory in Doha, shrugging off the missed doping test controversy which marred his build-up to the games.
Victory would cement his status as the man to beat at the Tokyo Olympics and move him to the front of the queue as Athletic’s new A-List superstar.
However, despite receiving generous plaudits for clocking 9.76 secs in Qatar, some, like legendary sprint king Michael Johnson, suggested his three missed doping tests prevented him from becoming the face of the sport.
A cloud of controversy still hung over his name, but Coleman insisted he had not been careless despite missing one test and two whereabouts failures in 12 months.
“I haven’t been careless. Everyone in this room has not been perfect. I am just a young black man living my dream, people are trying to smear my reputation,” he said after his Doha success.
“It is what it is, but I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing and focus on me. Now I’m a world champion and that’s something that nobody can ever take away from me.”
In all aspects of life, you can only run away for so long before being caught.
On Tuesday, a disciplinary panel banned the Atlanta native for two-years because of the three violations of doping control rules. He will miss next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.
Key to the ban was an incident on December 9 when Coleman claimed to be out Christmas shopping near his home in Lexington, Kentucky during his one-hour testing window that night.
The AIU reviewed receipts from Coleman’s shopping and ruled it would have been “simply impossible” for him, given the distances involved, to buy food from Chipotle, return home and leave again within his alleged timeframe.
The AIU said: “We regret to say that we do not think there is any mitigation which can fairly be relied upon to reduce the sanction from the two-year period.
“Unfortunately, we see this case as involving behaviour by the athlete as very careless at best and reckless at worst.
“We do not accept the athlete’s evidence. It is obvious that in fact the athlete did not go home until after making his 8.22pm purchase. We are comfortably satisfied that this is what happened.”
This is an extraordinary dismantling of Christian Coleman’s claim that a tester missed him after he returned home briefly sometime between 8pm and 8:10 from his Christmas shopping trip and “ate his chipotle while watching the kick-off [of a football game], then went out again.” pic.twitter.com/N3AZNcoQYE
— Sean Ingle (@seaningle) October 27, 2020
Athletes are required to update the authorities on their living arrangements so they can be found for a test. Failing to keep up-to-date information or not being present at the address during the allotted time is classed as a whereabouts failure.
For any athlete, it’s unthinkable that with the strong, intelligent team they have in their corner, they can miss three tests on an administration fumble, especially when there are two strikes next to your name already.
Coleman may only be 24 but the onus is on him to be where he said he would be, not the tester to ring around looking for him. Having got off on a technicality last year, he should have learnt his lesson.
Now with the world 60m record holder serving a ban, it means of the 50 fastest men’s 100m sprint times ever, only 15 have been run by an athlete not banned for drugs, missed tests, or accused of doping. Those 15 times were recorded by Usain Bolt.
The frustration for other athletes competing is that Coleman only raced at the worlds because of a technicality that came about because of imprecise language in the anti-doping rulebook.
And with the testing system lacking structural integrity to stand up in court if challenged, one wonders if his ban may be reduced from two years to one on appeal.
In a separate case, a world 400m champion escaped a doping ban on a technicality last week, after a tester knocked on the wrong door. Athletes should demand better from the Federation.
Of course, Coleman hasn’t failed a test yet and is not accused of taking a banned substance. It’s just three whereabouts failures, therefore two years is probably on the money for a first offence.
There is no doubt Coleman is a quality athlete, but when these details are thrown into the spotlight, you’re left wondering how much of what we see is real.
As a lover of athletics, each impressive achievement you see live, you’re always left wondering how long it will be before their cheating is discovered.
You never want it to be the case but it is difficult when low times are clocked or supreme performances are seen on the global stage.
Because of Coleman’s success, he will always have a target on his back from people. That’s part of what comes with sustained success.
Upon his return to action in 2022, he will need to learn from experience and take much greater care in relation to his filing and whereabouts information.
Although he has never failed a drugs test and is a clean athlete, his name will always have an asterisk next to it on the back of his current ban. Whatever medals or accolades are achieved will be met with uncertainty.
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