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

A Question of Whereabouts

Aug 1st, 2020
9:43 am PST

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.

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