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

Christian Coleman Suspended

Nov 6th, 2020
2:52 pm PST

If you know anything about track and field, you know that Christian Coleman has been suspended for his multiple whereabouts violations. A two year “time out” from the sport dating back to the first violation, which means he has zero shot at making the Tokyo Olympic team. No Trials, no Games. As a matter of fact he’ll barely be off probation before the trials for the next Worlds. Of course social media has gone crazy. “He’s being picked on”. “Others have gotten off”. Well, for what it’s worth, Christian got a pass in 2019, ran in Doha, and went out and missed another test – all before the end of 2019. So, no sympathy here.

I’m sorry. I just wrote about his situation a couple of months ago. To quickly recap. He faced suspension in 2019. Had an occurrence shifted out of the year zone, and was able to compete in Doha. A couple of months later we get the, “gotta go get food and shop during my testing window”, that led to this suspension. Dude, you’re the fastest man in the world. The defending World Champion. You BARELY made the trip to Doha. You KNOW you’re being tested often. You KNOW what time they’re coming. Stay tf home! No sympathy. Time to behave like an adult.

That said, the next question is, how will this affect the US team going forward? That’s the question circling the internet with the speed of a California forest fire! Well, I’m here to say that in my humble opinion it will have minimal impact. I’ll tell you why by looking at the following three areas.

The 100 meters. This is where his loss will be felt the most. After all he is the defending World Champion, and had been the leader on the clock each of the last three seasons prior to 2020. The 100 is one of the Games’, and track and field’s, marquee events, and it will be a shame that Coleman will not be there. Athletes running for championships deserve to do so against the best. And fans of the sport deserve to see the best of the best competing against each other. Coleman has robbed the Tokyo competitors and fans of that with his careless and reckless behavior. The question that will resonate after that final will be, “what would have happened if Coleman had been there?”. Frankly, at the end of the day, anything could have kept Coleman out of that final. A false start. Slipped blocks. Or simply a bad day. Even as early as the US Trials! So reality is that Christian had his bad day a year early and will not be there.That said, there will still be plenty of speed to go around – especially from the US group. So in spite of his absence, there won’t be any easy medals, because the sprints are fairly deep right now across the board.
Such was not the case for a while in the US. From 2006 to 2015, we really had only 4 truly competitive sprinters – Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, and Walter Dix. They were the guys capable of making finals in the sprints and winning medals. Everyone else was just filler. Unfortunately however, for various reasons, they were not always ready at the same time. Injuries especially plagued Gay, Spearmon and Dix. So most of the time, it was usually one or the other in the starting blocks at any given championship. Which is why our global results in the sprints during that time period were so spotty.

Ah, but since 2016, a new, young crop of sprinters has emerged. Fast. Confident. Competitive. As a result, we’re headed into these Trials looking like a reincarnation of 1968 in everything from the 100 to the quarter mile – fast and deep! Coleman is part of that group and because of this depth, he will not be missed. I’ll start with 200 meter World Champion Noah Lyles, who has defeated Coleman over 100 and had hinted at a 100/200 double at the Trials last year. If he chooses to double his 9.86 best makes him a favorite to make the team and potentially medal (gold?) in Tokyo. Especially since he has the best top end speed on the planet. Ronnie Baker is another vet with a solid PR (9.88) and racing pedigree. Fast over 60 (6.40), he returned from injury last year and should be even better in 2021. An intriguing entry is Trayvon Bromell, a former World Championships bronze medalist. He spent the past few seasons working his way back from injury as well. But his path was a bit more difficult as he had to have surgery to fix an Achilles injury. The first few years following surgery he looked like a mere shell of himself. In 2020 however, he looked to be almost back to his 9.84 form, clocking a legal 9.90. If he gets back to PR form that would make him a solid contender at the Trials and Tokyo. A dark horse entry in Oregon, could be quarter miler Michael Norman, who ran a 9.86 of his own to lead the world in 2020. He would have to choose between running what has been his best event (the 400) or attempting a 100/200 double! Almost the same dilemma that faced Tommie Smith in ’68 (2 or 4), and in another way John Carlos (1 or 2). These men are the tip of an iceberg that contains many 9.9x types. Oh, and let’s not forget Justin Gatlin. Yes, the man that lead us from 2004 through 2019. From 2012 to 2017, he was our biggest hope for gold, getting silver in ’13 &’15 until winning gold again (won ’04/’05) in’17 and adding another silver in ’19. The only question is, has time finally caught up? Yes, Coleman should be competing, but we will be fine in the 100.

We will also be fine in the 4×1. Don’t get me wrong. Coleman is the best leadoff out there – hands down. Hell, he may be the best lead off, EVER. And I don’t hand out those kinds of superlatives easily. Last year, he (the world’s best starter) and Lyles (the world’s best finisher) took two over 30 sprinters to 37.10 – and that third leg got off slowly! With Coleman/Lyles and two solid 9.8’s the WR can be broken. With Coleman sidelined, the win is still possible, but the WR will take a perfect race. I’m not giving up hope, because with the right group of 9.8x’s on the track it’s still possible. And as I stated above the foot speed is there and we’ll still be faster than anyone else on the track. Besides, if Britain can run 37.36 with a bunch of 10.0-10.1 types, we have a shot at the record with solid passing! And they are our biggest competition – Britain and Japan. Japan at 37.43, is another very slick passing squad that will push us until we make a mistake. There is no super sprinter out there, let alone two on any squad, that can outrun us in foot speed. The Caribbean is lacking on the men’s side right now. And countries like Nigeria and South Africa don’t seem to be putting it together. So, even without Coleman, as long as we execute we’ll be fine. The key will be discipline.

The third area where he will be missed is the 200. I mention this because that’s the sprint that’s been the thinnest for us since 2007. Not because of a lack of talent, but because our talents and been injured – often. Incredibly we had five sprinters run under 19.70 during that time period, but we ended up with little to show for it! Lyles has brought us back to prominence however, looking like Tommie Smith reborn. This is HIS event and he runs like it! While Coleman was not the favorite here, he was good enough to A) make the team, and B) make the final and sneak in for a medal on any given day. He could have made for a solid 1,2 punch, and that will be missed. But we’re beginning to grow in the deuce, and it’s possible we may still send three sub 20’s to Tokyo. With Coleman however, we could have guaranteed two. Which brings me to the area that we may be improved – Leadership.

As the current World Champion in the 100, Coleman is in a very visible position – it’s the event that elevates Bolt. As such he’s expected to be a leader. Unfortunately, he has not exhibited any sort of leadership qualities either verbally or through his actions. His personality has come across surly and arrogant. He’s not been anything like Bolt, Mo Greene, Tyson Gay, or current US sprint stars Noah Lyles and Michael Norman. His suspension means that there will be no surly, angry Coleman in front of the camera in Tokyo. That’s a good thing for American PR! Instead we’ll have smiling, happy, bubbly athletes like Lyles, Norman, Holloway and Benjamin. Presenting a positive face on US athletics across the globe – Bolt in multiple. That’s something we haven’t had on the global stage since the Carl Lewis era. That rock star quality! Not to diminish athletes like Johnson, Greene, and Felix who are all great champions and were great ambassadors. But Carl and Bolt had that other quality. Something that Marion had before the fall, and that Lyles and Holloway have now. And that will make up for any loss we may suffer from Coleman’s absence. We’ll be fine. As a matter of fact, we’ll be better than fine. This upcoming US team should be 1968 awesome!

So, yes, there are ways in which this suspension hurts. At the end of the day however, it hurts Coleman the most. It damages his image. It hurts his credibility. It will hurt his wallet. For his sake, I hope he treats this as a wake up call. He’s got the talent. But the road to success is paved with the bones of the talented that have fallen. Perhaps watching Tokyo will inspire Coleman in the way that an injured Maurice Greene got inspired watching Atlanta! The post 1996 Greene was stupendous. One can hope.

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