Christian Coleman's ban casts another cloud over athletics' blue riband event

Ben Bloom
·4-min read
Christian Coleman of the United States, bites on his medal during ceremonies for the men's 100m at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. - AP
Christian Coleman of the United States, bites on his medal during ceremonies for the men's 100m at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. - AP

Last year, an international sprinter competing at the World Championships told me he believed that to run the 100 metres in less than 9.90 seconds it was necessary to take performance-enhancing drugs.

While it is unclear whether he had any evidence for that belief, it is nevertheless a distressing claim to hear from someone who should know what really goes on at elite level. The facts do not bear it out, with a significant number of the 36 men to go under that mark never having been accused of any wrongdoing. But an alarming proportion have, and the higher you climb the ranks of the sports’ blue riband event, the murkier things get.

A statistic frequently reeled out is that of the 50 fastest 100m times in history (anything quicker than 9.82sec) only the 15 posted by world record-holder Usain Bolt remain unblemished.

Bolt, of course, has an untarnished record and his precocious performances as a teenager leant weight to the fact that he was legitimate.

Maurice Greene, the only other member of the “Fast 50” never to have been banned, was reported in 2008 to be one of 12 American athletes to have been supplied with performance-enhancing drugs by Angel Guillermo Heredia, a former discus thrower from Mexico. Greene has always denied the allegations and has never been found guilty of a doping offence.

But the fact all other men to have run under 9.82 have been found guilty at one time or another of some form of doping offence means it should come as little surprise that Christian Coleman’s name has been added to the ranks of those now accustomed to the adjective “disgraced” being associated with their career.

Coleman’s two-year ban from the sport is no proof he has taken performance-enhancing drugs – and he has categorically denied such allegations – rather it is reflective of the disdain with which he has treated the anti-doping process. Upon news of the ban being made public, the American’s manager, Emmanuel Hudson, instantly confirmed he will appeal against it. “The decision of the disciplinary tribunal established under World Athletics rules is unfortunate and will be immediately appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” Hudson said. “Mr Coleman has nothing further to say until such time as the matter can be heard in the court of jurisdiction.”

Judging by the arrogance with which Coleman responded to questions about being fortunate enough to avoid a ban on a technicality last year, it is perhaps wise that he remains gagged if the appeal is to stand any chance of prevailing.

Coleman is the only man to have run under 9.80 over the past five years – Bolt, Justin Gatlin, Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Nesta Carter all did so between 2010 and 2016 – clocking a personal best 9.76 when claiming the world title last year. As the world’s fastest sprinter by a considerable margin in 2017, 2018 and 2019, his future as Olympic champion seemed inevitable.

Now, though, if the ban is upheld, that will not happen,  in large part to the work of the Athletics Integrity Unit, the independent anti-doping unit that was created in 2017.

Athletics’ headline race, and arguably the biggest single event of the entire Olympics, now heads into the delayed Tokyo Games next year as a largely blank canvas. The man most likely to step into the spotlight in Coleman’s absence is his fellow American Noah Lyles, a dancing, rapping, showman ideally poised to fill Bolt’s shoes. Yet while the world 200m champion already sits fourth on the all-time list at that distance aged 23, he has never even contested the 100m at a major international competition.

Among a host of athletes hoping to beat him are Canada’s Andre De Grasse, a three-time Olympic and four-time world medallist, and American Trayvon Bromell, both recovering from major injuries. British pair Zharnel Hughes and Reece Prescod, reigning European gold and silver medallists respectively, are not far behind them on personal bests.

And then there are the old-timers Gatlin and Blake, two men who have served doping bans of differing severity and are surely approaching their last Olympic outings. Gatlin will be 39 by the time of the Games, and while it should be inconceivable for someone to win an Olympic 100m medal at that age, it would be foolish to write him off.