The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

A Question of Whereabouts

Aug 1st, 2020
9:43 am PDT

My previous post focused on Noah Lyles and Michael Norman, two of America’s best young sprint stars. While they have had some nice performances early, they aren’t the only ones that have been lighting it up. Allyson Felix has defeated Shaunae Miller Uibo in a virtual 150; Ryan Crouser has become #4 all time in the shot put with a monster 22.19m (75’2“) heave; and Shelby Houlihan set an American record 14:23.92 over 5,000. Of course the sprinters have been having a great time as Sha’Carrie Richardson has run a windy 10.79 and Elaine Thompson a windy 10.73. With perhaps the biggest news being Trayvon Bromell turning a legal 9.90! More on that later. Yes, I admit it, I’m drooling. I need my track and field!

All has not been sunshine and roses however. When talking about Lyles and Norman, I did mention the prospect that Christian Coleman could be missing from the 202One sprint squad. That’s because once again the topic of doping has entered the sport. Though this time it’s not because someone of note has tested positive. No, this time the conversation is about missed tests – better known as whereabouts violations.

Here’s a quick overview of how this works. As a pro athlete in the sport, you may be randomly drug tested. On any given day, drug testers may show up to make sure that you aren’t taking banned substances. So, how do the testers know where you are? You provide the sport with that information. You give them an ongoing list of where you will be an hour each day. The athlete chooses the hour and the location. It can be the same every day, or change. And if things change, they can go online and make the appropriate adjustments. Finally, if you are not at the location when the testers arrive, you have an hour to get there and be tested. Simple right? But wait, there’s more. If, by chance the testers miss you for whatever reason. You get two free misses in a twelve month (one year) period. If, however, you suffer three missed tests in that time period, three strikes you’re out. Out as in suspended. Typically for a year, though it can be longer depending on the circumstances.

That’s the basics. Sounds simple, yes? Keep your list up to date, and be where you say you’re going to be. Yet some very high profile athletes have been in the news this past month. Among them, Olympian Deejah Stevens, and World champions Salwa Naser and Christian Coleman. All of which are facing suspensions because they’ve missed at least three whereabouts visits.

Coleman faced this same dilemma before last year’s World Championships, but upon further review he had one miss fall outside of the twelve month window. That allowed him to compete in Doha. Since then, however, he’s had another missed test and that is within the timeframe.

Of course, athletes have various reasons as to why they’ve missed these tests. The testers went to the wrong address. The athlete was called away just before the testers arrived. The athlete decided to go shopping. But since there is an extra hour to still get there for the test there’s really not much excuse for missing – let alone missing three. In my opinion it really comes down to a matter of responsibility. It’s part of being an elite athlete. And if you fail at that, and you’re suspended, that too is part of your job.

However, Coleman is one of the more visible athletes in the sport, competing in the high profile 100 meter dash. Not just competing, but having won the most recent World Championships. That puts him square in the crosshairs of the spotlight of the sport. And, unfortunately, under perhaps the biggest shadow dogging track and field – the topic of Doping! Since the 1980’s, doping has consistently cast a cloud over the sport. From Ben Johnson to BALCO to Salazar, various scandals continue to give the public the impression that that is what is needed to excel in this sport. An impression that the sport fights hard to refute. That’s why drug testing is such an ongoing big deal. Unfortunately testing is a double edged sword, because the few positive tests overshadow the plethora of negative tests. And when it comes to whereabouts matters, missed tests are seen as avoidance, which translates into, trying to cheat. Whether that’s the case or not! So whereabouts has got to get under control.

Fortunately this is the year 2020 and in my opinion we have the technology to do just that – get this under control. After all, everyone has a cell phone and they are nearly all capable of sharing your location via GPS. So, it would stand to reason that we really can find you wherever you are on most of the planet as long as we have your cell phone information, right? So, here’s my solution. The sport can continue creating the whereabouts list, because that gives the athlete some sense of control and privacy in that he/she can be in control of where they are when confronted by testing. However, should one miss that first whereabouts visit, in addition to the information on your whereabouts list, the athlete would then be required to provide cell phone/GPS information. Since the athlete now has a “missed” history, if he/she is not at the stated location in the future, they can be tracked by GPS to be tested. No missed test, no whereabouts violations. NO suspensions. The only issue left on the table would be actual positive tests – I can’t do anything about that.

If these missed whereabouts are accidental in nature as stated by the athletes, then there should be no problem with providing tracking information. As a matter of fact, for someone like Coleman with four missed whereabouts in a year, it should be welcomed, as it takes the burden of always being in the right place at the right time off his plate. He can decide to do some last minute shopping, go out for a late night stroll, or even go see a movie – post pandemic. If it’s his time to be tested, they will know exactly where he, or any other athlete is. The “surprise” test can be conducted. And everything will be just fine.

I would hope that everyone involved would be amenable to making this adjustment to the program. Any time we can reduce negative publicity in this sport is a good thing. Which is why I would like to talk about ways to give the sport a bit of better visibility next.

The World of Lyles and Norman

Jul 25th, 2020
2:01 pm PDT

The US Olympic Trials of 2016 saw a pair of High School stars take to the track in an attempt to make the Olympic team. A pair of young men aiming to become the first US high school sprinters to make the team since Houston McTear, Dwayne Evans and Johnny Jones did so way back in 1976. Noah Lyles and Michael Norman gave it a good shot as they made the final of the 200 finishing just out of the medals in 4th & 5th at 20 Read More...

2020 On Pause

May 1st, 2020
4:33 pm PDT

I've been busy during the first part of the 2020 track season. Work, coaching, reorganizing life. So watched quietly as the early season began to develop. It would be quiet anyway I told myself. 2019 had been way too long! It had dragged on and on as we all waited for Doha. Doha was hot. So hot they had to wait till near October to hold it Read More...

Coe Attempts to Destroy the Sport

Nov 10th, 2019
11:20 am PDT

Despite the conditions - a long season and heat from Hell - the recently concluded World Championships was one for the books. One of the best competitions ever. With exciting events and athletes from opening to close. Combine that with the plethora of young stars in the sport, the Olympics being less than a year away, and one would think that track and field is poised for an exciting period of time Read More...

Finally a 4×1 Victory

Oct 21st, 2019
11:02 am PDT

The US did it! We won a major 4x1, coming home with gold in Doha. The monkey is off our back! I wouldn't get too excited just yet however. That's one win in the last twelve years. And behind us was the fastest finish for place in places 2-5 - because the world has gotten FASTER in the last decade plus Read More...

Doha Review

Oct 13th, 2019
2:30 pm PDT

The 2019 World Championships just concluded. And I have to look at it from two perspectives. From the perspective of location, it was an abject failure. Temperature wise it was so hot that the only time to go out comfortably was midnight. Prompting the walks and marathons to be held - at midnight Read More...

Doha Will Be Remembered for the Four

Sep 3rd, 2019
9:04 am PDT

World Championships are the highlight of the sport. They showcase the best that track and field has to offer. During each one, the absolute best of the best rises to the top to create the meet’s most lasting memories. The inaugural championships in 1983 was the debut of Carl Lewis to the world. The followup in ’87 was the debut of Been Johnson Read More...

Marketing the Face of Track and Field

Aug 6th, 2019
4:37 pm PDT

Between 2008 and 2017 many people considered Usain Bolt to be the face of track and field. The athlete that the IAAF built their promotion around. The sprinter they proclaimed to be the “clean” representation of track and field, because the IAAF felt that such a representation was needed.  When Bolt said that it was time to retire, Seb Coe basically said, “woe is me whatever will we do Read More...

USATF Championships Review

Jul 31st, 2019
1:57 pm PDT

For four days America's best track and field athletes got together in Des Moines Iowa to decide who would represent the US at the World Championships. Lots to say, some good, some bad, so let's start with the bad. I'm not sure what the selection process is for championship sites, and I understand that this meet is going to be held in the summer, but how many times have I seen this meet affected by rain? So on Championship Sunday we're hit by rain yet again Read More...

USATF Preview

Jul 16th, 2019
11:10 am PDT

We're a little over a week from the USATF Championships. No more competitions to watch. The time has finally arrived. And after months of meets - we still don't know much! With Worlds being so late, some athletes have been very cautious. Then there are the collegiate kids that have already peaked for a championship Read More...