To believe that the evidence supporting Christian Coleman’s two-year ban from track is flawed is to believe that the 24-year-old sprinter really has redefined the title “World’s Fastest Man.”
It’s to believe that in the span of 29 minutes last Dec. 9, Coleman bought dinner from a Chipotle near his house, hurried back home and ate it, watched the kickoff of “Monday Night Football,” then headed back out to a nearby Wal-Mart, where he purchased 16 items and checked out.
“It would have been simply impossible,” a panel of arbitrators wrote Tuesday in delivering a two-year sanction that, if upheld, will keep the 100-meter world champion out of next year’s Olympics.
Coleman’s agent, Emanuel Hudson, said the decision was “unfortunate and will be immediately appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”
The episode last year marked Coleman’s third violation in a 12-month span of the anti-doping “whereabouts” system, which is designed to streamline the ability for drug testers to reach the world’s best athletes without advance notice.
It’s a system that, for years now, has befuddled and bedeviled Coleman, who last year escaped a sanction on a technicality that came about because of imprecise language in the anti-doping rulebook.
He attempted to secure another reprieve — this time for the Dec. 9, 2019, failure — by saying he had been out Christmas shopping but was, indeed, home during the 60-minute window he gave to authorities.
But a key part of his alibi — that testers must have left his doorstep before the 7:15-8:15 window had run out — was disproved by nimble work from investigators. They tracked down receipts from a shopping trip that began, they said, no later than 7:13 p.m., and included stops at Chipotle (at 7:53 p.m.) and Wal-Mart (at 8:22) near Coleman’s house. They coupled the receipts with a picture taken (at 8:21) by a tester sitting in his car in front of the house, added it all up and caught the sprinter in what appears to be an embarrassing lie.
The arbitrators concluded that Coleman, instead of admitting fault, turned his wrath on the authorities, accused them of trying to trap him, “denied the offense, and persisted in an exculpatory version of events as to what happened… that is simply untrue.”
One of Coleman’s key arguments was that he never received a call from the drug testers as his 60-minute window was winding down. But according to the rules, no call is necessary and, in this instance, testers had been specifically instructed not to call Coleman, in part because of his history of missed tests.
Even with the missed tests, Coleman saw the testers plenty in 2019. He was tested no fewer than 14 times by collectors from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who did work both for the agency and on behalf of other agencies, including the Athletics Integrity Unit, which is handing down the two-year sanction.
That U.S. athletes are tested more frequently than athletes from many countries is a source of frustration among some, who view the differing levels of thoroughness of anti-doping agencies around the globe as a fundamental flaw in the system.
Regardless, Coleman has long been in the crosshairs of testers because of his sustained success — he won a silver medal at worlds in 2017 — and perhaps because of his established record of struggling with the whereabouts system.
In a previous violation that was also reviewed by the arbitrators, testers showed up and called Coleman from in front of his house on April 26, 2019.
He told them he was not available for testing because he had traveled to the Drake Relays in Iowa.
Four minutes after the call, according to the evidence, Coleman updated his whereabouts form to indicate he was, in fact, in Iowa.
The retroactive changing of the form was, according to the panel, a cut-and-dried “filing failure” that put Coleman one step away from a possible sanction.
The panel noted that Coleman’s suspension could have been reduced to one year, but it decided against leniency.
“Unfortunately, we see this case as involving behavior by the athlete as very careless at best and reckless at worst,” the panel wrote. “In those circumstances we impose a two-year sanction.”
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