January 24, 2021

Noah Lyles: Christian Coleman must show responsibility over missed tests

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Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman
Lyles and Coleman won relay gold alongside Michael Rodgers and Justin Gatlin at the World Championships in Doha

Noah Lyles says fellow world champion Christian Coleman should take “more responsibility” after he was provisionally suspended for missing three doping tests in a year.

Lyles, 23, said it “hurt” that Coleman’s violations could weaken the United States relay team’s chances at the Tokyo Olympics.

“You are just hoping for a little more responsibility,” Lyles told BBC Sport.

“It hurts because we want to go to Tokyo and aim for the world record.”

Coleman could be banned for two years by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) after it was revealed in June that he missed three tests during 2019.

The 24-year-old ran 9.76 seconds to win the 100m world title in September, but had looked likely to miss the Championships after the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) charged him just weeks before their start with missing three tests.

Usada subsequently withdrew its case after a filing irregularity was revealed, allowing Coleman to compete in Doha. He has disputed the AIU’s claims he was given a proper chance to provide a sample at his third alleged missed test and denies ever using performance-enhancing drugs.

As well as being a relay team-mate, world 200m champion Lyles is also a rival to Coleman, with both planning to double up and run the 100m and 200m in Tokyo.

But Lyles, who has a personal best of 9.86 seconds over the shorter distance and has admitted to an uneasy relationship with Coleman in the past,external-link takes no pleasure from his compatriot’s possible ban.

“You don’t wish anyone to be missing tests – that is the quickest way to an accidental suspension. It hurts to see in the track world,” he said.

“The whereabouts system has been pretty easy for me. I believe I have had two instances where I missed tests, one their fault, one mine. They happened in completely different years and ever since then I haven’t had any missed tests.

“If you have missed one, definitely get someone to watch over that for you, to be that nagging voice in your ear.”

‘It comes down to a time and a place’

San Francisco 49ers players take a knee in 2016
Colin Kaepernick (centre) kneels alongside San Francisco team-mates Eli Harold and Eric Reid in 2016

Lyles says he has also taken advice from his family and advisors about the best way to advance the campaign for racial justice and equality on sport’s biggest stage.

He attended a protest in Orlando in June, as similar events swept the United States and the wider world in reaction to viral video of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Lyles also revealed he had made significant donations to non-profit groups and is working with sponsors to make changes.

However, he says he believes that a high-profile symbolic gesture on the track or podium in Tokyo, which would violate Olympic rules, could be counter-productive.

“It comes down to a time and place – you want to make a statement, but you also want to be heard,” he said, citing how American football player Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the pre-match anthem quickly became a partisan political issue.

“You don’t want something to overshadow what you are trying to say. Finding the right time to share your message is really important.

“I don’t think it is something I would do on the podium, but it is something I would do in interviews afterwards and on my social media.”

Hammer thrower Gwen Berry was placed on probation by the US Olympic committee after holding up a fist on the podium at the Pan American Games last year. US athletes have since petitioned the International Olympic Committee to change its rules on protest.

World record goals and gaffes

Even in a year in which international athletics has often only been possible via virtual video link-up, Lyles has managed to make headlines.

Competing at the Inspiration Games in July, he briefly appeared to have set an astonishing new world record, stopping the clock at 18.90 seconds in the 200m.

That would have obliterated Usain Bolt’s 19.19-second world record set in 2009 and represented a gigantic improvement on Lyles own’ personal best of 19.50 seconds.

Instead it was revealed that an error setting up Lyles’ blocks meant he had run only 185m.

“Automatically I knew that time was not real,” he said. “I was just waiting for it to update and for someone to give us an answer that sounds legitimate.

“I was running into a negative 3.7 headwind, it had rained that day – I just knew it was not right.”

Lyles, who is 0.2secs slower than Bolt was over 200m at the equivalent stage of the Jamaican great’s career, believes he can eventually claim the world record for real.

“I still believe it is obtainable and I will keep striving for it each time I run,” he said.

“Training has been going extremely well. I am getting stronger and stronger – it is still in my sights.”