DOHA DASH FAVORITE Christian Coleman very nearly had to sit out the World Championships—and perhaps more—after an apparent third violation of WADA’s “whereabouts” system put him in the doping-violation crosshairs. The story was broken by Britain’s Daily Mail on August 22 and for the next week-plus internet speculation raged.
The whereabouts policy is intended to make sure that top athletes are always available for drug testing. It requires that athletes let testing officials know where they will be for 1 hour each day, along with where they are training and spending the night. Three failures to file within a year are grounds for punishment, usually a 1-year ban. In Coleman’s case, the missed days were originally cited as June 6, 2018, and January 16 & April 26 of this year.
After consulting with WADA, however, USADA dropped its case against Coleman on September 2, two days before a scheduled hearing, on the grounds that according to the testing guidelines, filing failures relate back to the first day of the quarter. That by rule moved Coleman’s ’18 miss all the way back to April 1, which is more than a year before his most recent gaffe. This rule is being rewritten to eliminate confusion for a new version of the code, which takes effect in ’21.
Said USADA head Travis Tygart, “Every athlete is entitled to a presumption of innocence until their case is concluded through the established legal process. This is certainly the case for Mr. Coleman, who has been found by USADA not to have committed a Whereabouts Violation and is fully eligible to compete under the rules.” Both WADA and the IAAF (through the AIU) could have appealed the ruling, but each said they would not.
There was plenty of criticism for letting Coleman off the hook. Olympian Kara Goucher, for one, tweeted, “Imagine breaking a really big rule with big consequences, only to discover a new rule which makes prior rule useless. So future athletes with whereabouts failures—3 missed tests in a 12-month period—with WADA’s approval, can be changed to a 14-month period. No worries. Unreal.”
In response to the criticism, Coleman posted a 22-minute video defending himself, saying, “I feel like I deserve a public apology, because I’m a victim. I missed two track meets, switched up my schedule and been running with the stress of this situation in my mind.” On Instagram, he said, “I have never failed a drug test and never will. I’m the biggest advocate for clean sport because I know the sacrifice and what it takes to make it to this level. There have been a lot of inaccurate things said in the media over the past few weeks.”
According to USADA, Coleman has been tested 20 times in 2018–19. Nonetheless, the fact that he ended up with a trio of missed tests in such proximity doesn’t reflect well on his and his camp’s ongoing handling of such a crucial matter. ◻︎