Christian Coleman’s ban reduced, will still miss Olympics

Christian Coleman
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Christian Coleman, the Olympic 100m favorite before being banned last year over missed drug tests, had his suspension reduced from two years to 18 months on appeal. He will still miss the Tokyo Games.

“While I appreciate that the arbitrators correctly found that I am a clean athlete, I am obviously disappointed that I will miss the Olympic Games this summer,” Coleman, the 2019 World champion, said in a statement, his first public acknowledgement that he will not compete in Tokyo. “I look forward to representing the United States at both World Championships in 2022 [indoors and outdoors], especially the first ever World Championships held in the United States next summer where I plan to defend my world title against a new Olympic champion in the 100 meters.”

A Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) panel cut Coleman’s ban from the maximum two years to 18 months, deciding his degree of negligence was lower than previously found.

Coleman is suspended into mid-November for missing three drug tests in a 12-month span, all in 2019. The penalty for “whereabouts failures” is one to two years depending on degree of fault for first-time offenders like Coleman.

Coleman was provisionally banned on May 14, 2020, five months after the last missed test. Then, after a hearing, he was given the full two-year suspension in late October, retroactively dated to May 14. A panel said that Coleman lied about being at his home before the end of a one-hour window to be tested on Dec. 9, 2019, his last of three strikes.

Coleman appealed to CAS, hoping to get the ban reduced to be eligible for June’s Olympic Trials. A hearing was held in February.

“The athlete should have been on ‘high-alert’ on that day [Dec. 9], given the two existing whereabout failures against him,” according to CAS.

Coleman has never failed a drug test. The CAS panel reinforced that it believes Coleman is a clean athlete who did not avoid being tested.

The panel also was sympathetic to Coleman’s assertion that he did not receive a phone call from the drug tester in an attempt to find him. A call is not required, but Coleman said that he received calls every other time he was not at home for a drug test.

“Closer examination of the training material in fact suggests that the training received by the athlete reinforced the practice of a DCO [doping control officer] placing a call before the expiry of the 60-minute slot,” according to excerpts of the CAS decision published by Coleman’s agency.

Coleman, 25, succeeded the retired Usain Bolt as the world’s fastest man, clocking the world’s fastest time in the 100m in 2017, 2018 and 2019, including taking gold at the world championships in Doha on Sept. 28, 2019.

The missed tests in 2019 were Jan. 16, April 26 and Dec. 9, with the second instance specified as a filing failure. A filing failure, in this case, meant Coleman incorrectly filled out quarterly forms to notify drug testers where to find him, and received a strike when testers showed up to that location, and he was not present.

Coleman contested the April 26 filing failure and the Dec. 9 missed test.

He focused on the Dec. 9 missed test in June 2020 comments, saying he returned home from Christmas shopping and Chipotle before the end of a one-hour window that drug testers said they waited for him. That hour was 7:15-8:15 p.m. at his Lexington, Ky., home.

“I know that I was there within the hour because I watched the beginning of the Monday Night Football game,” Coleman said. “Of course, that’s he said, she said. It’s not really much I can do. There’s no real proof of that.”

Coleman had receipts showing he was shopping at least from 7:13 p.m., bought Chipotle at 7:53 and, after he said he returned home, bought 16 items from a Walmart Supercenter at 8:22.

The 2020 tribunal rejected Coleman’s argument, saying its two drug testers were standing directly in front of Coleman’s apartment between 7:15 and 8:15 and would have noticed if he entered the apartment during that hour.

The tribunal also deemed it impossible that Coleman could have bought Chipotle at 7:53, driven home, parked his car, went into his home, eaten the Chipotle, watched the 8:15 kickoff, driven to the Walmart, picked up 16 items and paid for them by 8:22.

“It is obvious that in fact the athlete did not go home until after making his 8:22pm purchase,” according to the 2020 decision. “We are comfortably satisfied that this is what happened.”

Neither the 2020 tribunal nor Friday’s CAS release mentioned Coleman’s other assertion, that the address on the missed drug test report was incorrect — “He messed up the two or three words in my address,” Coleman previously said. “Maybe he was at the right place. Maybe he wasn’t. I don’t know.”

The tribunal also noted that, in summer 2019, Coleman “had the narrowest possible escape” from a potential ban when he was cleared in a case of missed tests when a violation was procedurally backdated, meaning the third strike came more than 12 months after the first one.

He continued competing in 2019 — winning that world title to cement Olympic favorite status — with two strikes on his record from January and April. That meant another strike before Jan. 16, 2020, would be his third in a 12-month period and could result in a suspension. That strike came on Dec. 9.

Had Coleman’s suspension started on or shortly after Dec. 9, he would still be eligible for the Olympics.

Suspensions generally do not start on the date of the last missed test for procedural reasons but can be backdated “if there are substantial delays in the hearing process that are not attributable to the athlete,” according to the Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles such cases for track and field, “but there were no such delays in this case.”

Coleman, a 2016 Olympic 4x100m relay member, had a goal to compete in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the Tokyo Games.

The world’s second-fastest 100m sprinter in 2019 was Noah Lyles, the world 200m champion who is bidding for the same Olympic triple.

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