I wrote a rant after the news had come out that Christian Coleman had three whereabouts failures in one year. The writing was in reaction to episode 501 from the House of Run podcast. In it, the hosts reacted to the news and I found their reaction a bit too easy going on Coleman. I wrote this before Coleman got off on a technicality and sent it to House of Run. House of Run reacted to my mail in episode 502. Episode 502 was made after Coleman got off.

My ranting mail in question:

Listened to episode 501 the other day and your reactions on the Coleman news. I was a bit disappointed in how you compared missing tests to getting caught red-handed. Here in Belgium we are pretty big on cycling and I have followed it for most of my life. As a lifelong cycling fan I can tell you: yes, missing tests feels the same to me as getting caught red-handed. Yes, if the ruling stands you should see him as dopeman-Coleman. To all your “should we” questions that felt somewhat forgiving already towards Coleman. Yes, yes, yes, you should see this as a strong black mark.

There are plenty of documented cases from old dopers where they explain you should avoid getting tested while you know you are positive. Dodging testers, training in a country with an almost non-existing anti-drug sytem, not opening the door when testers ring, … Read former cyclist Tyler Hamilton’s book “The Secret Race” for some, almost hilarious, examples of how to go about it.

Why would a doper take the dodging approach? Well, evidently failing a test gets you banned immediately. Missing a test would have to happen several times. Furthermore, bans are lighter if they occur after missed tests. Finally, in the eye of the public, as is shown by your reaction, you are more accepted than if you had failed any of the tests you missed. You would have to be an idiot to voluntarily take a test where you know you would be caught.

As for your point about his looking for a tester after his world record, that is meaningless. These athletes know there is a large chance of getting tested during competition. They know how long it takes for certain kinds of doping to be out of your system. Of course he would not test positive then, you time the doping to make sure there is nothing in your system when you are racing. That is why we do out of competition testing: an attempt to make their planning useless.

Is it hard to keep up with filling in the whereabouts system? Possibly, I have never done it. Nonetheless the athletes know what is at stake. It is part of their job. Especially in this age of connectivity, I don’t think there is any excuse for not filling in some form truthfully and on time.

To summarise:

  • A whereabouts miss is a black mark and not something to be waved away.
  • Dopers know how long a drug is in their system, they know when they would fail a test.
  • Missing a test you know you will fail is smarter than taking it.
  • Keeping the whereabouts up to date is part of an athlete’s job.

In the House of Run reaction to my mail, in episode 502, the hosts understood my point of view. However, they also were not necessarily willing to have such a pessimistic outlook on things. We are all just a bunch of humans prone to mistakes, after all. I cannot blame them, it took me many years of following cycling to become the cynic I am (and I still love to watch cycling!). I hope the future will not prove my cynic views right.

As for the current state of affairs: Coleman getting off on a technicality leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. It would have been better for the case’s perception if one of the missed tests had been properly refuted. “Technically this miss should be moved to the beginning of the quarter” does not fall in the category of “properly refuted” in my eyes. The ruling followed the rules of the World Anti Doping Agency, but sometimes the rules are just shit. I am not sure I will ever be able to appreciate seeing Coleman in a race again. I hope I can get over it, because it looks like he is here to stay.