Christian Coleman has something to prove -- and proves it, in 9.76 seconds

DOHA, Qatar — There really wasn’t any doubt Saturday who was going to win the men’s 100 meters at these IAAF world championships.

Christian Coleman had something to prove.

The only question, especially after Coleman came out blazing sub-10 in the prelims and went sub 9.9 in the semis and in that race ran hard for only 85 meters, was in what time and by how much.

Coleman, who burst onto the scene two years ago with a world championships 100 silver, dominated the late Saturday night final. He literally did run away with it, in 9.76 seconds, fastest in the world in 2019. It was his personal-best time and the sixth-fastest in history.

Justin Gatlin, the London 2017 gold medalist, the man who dethroned Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in Bolt’s final championship 100, scraped into Friday’s final after coming in third in his semifinal. Incredibly, he then took second in the championship run, in 9.89. Andre DeGrasse of Canada got third, in a personal best 9.90.

Christian Coleman winning the men’s 100 // Getty Images

Christian Coleman winning the men’s 100 // Getty Images

Three things were made manifestly clear Saturday night. 

First, track and field is a television sport. This was the men’s 100. Yes, this is Doha. But if any event at these championships was going to pack the house this would have been it. Instead, Khalifa Stadium was half full. Maybe.

Second, about Bolt, and this needs to be said, because it’s now two years since Bolt left to great acclaim after his final races in London. 

Bolt is not here in Doha. There are many ways to read this. Here is the right way. Bolt got what he wanted out of track and field, and now he is off doing what he wants. He may or may not have loved track and field but he does not love it enough now to do what he should be doing — be its No. 1 ambassador.

That is, someone did not pay him enough to make it worth his time to be here.  

In his absence, Coleman — along with others, including the American Noah Lyles, the almost-certain winner of the men’s 200 later at these championships — have emerged as bright new faces of track and field.

This brings us to the third point.

About Christian Coleman having something Saturday night to prove. 

A few weeks back, Coleman — who has never tested positive for any illicit substance — got dragged into a ridiculous situation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which thought it had him tagged for three so-called whereabouts violations. That would have rendered Coleman ineligible. 

The men’s 100 king is the big dog in track and field. That is a fact. 

Here is another fact. USADA did not understand the rules. It botched the case. USADA had to drop the matter, and it apologized. Coleman was absolutely free to run here in Doha.

This sequence prompted a succession of hot takes. Here, for instance, was Michael Johnson, the 1990s-era 200 and 400 king, opining thusly for BBC on Coleman: “It completely disqualifies him, at this point, from ever being that face of the sport. This will follow him, as it should.”

Look, everyone is entitled to an opinion. That one is grounded in — what? Reality or something else?

Johnson also said, word for word, “I think this is an incredibly important issue around the sport because Christian Coleman was being touted to replace Usain Bolt as the big star of the sport.

“I don’t think that will happen now as a result of this. I think that fans of athletics don’t have any tolerance at this point for any sort of doping infraction.”

Track and field has a great number of issues. But there is zero evidence for that assertion, that fans have zero tolerance for athletes with a connection to doping. For goodness sake, the sprinter Dwain Chambers — who got tagged the BALCO scandal — went on to become, of all things, respected yet again by the press and by extension the fans that press was reporting for in, of all places, Great Britain.

Evidence? Here was the story in the Telegraph, the newspaper that the very same Michael Johnson used to write columns for, when Chambers won the 60-meter world indoor championships here in Doha in 2010:

“The 31-year-old made it a day of double celebration for Britain after Jessica Ennis’s gold medal 90 minutes earlier, powering to victory in 6.48sec — the fastest time in the world this year.

“… It was Chambers’ first senior global title and vindication for his hard work and perseverance in the face [of] extreme pressure from officialdom following his return to athletics two years ago.” 

Oh. OK.

Back to Coleman. Who, let’s be clear, got shafted by USADA. Which, let’s review yet again, took the weak step of asking the World Anti-Doping Agency for a rules clarification about rules USADA should have known about all along. If you are in the rules business, you have to know the rules, especially if you are aiming to take out the big dog. 

As IAAF president Seb Coe — no weak dog himself on doping matters, ask the Russians — said here before competition got underway, “We have to be very careful not to play fast and loose with the reputation of athletes. 

“I am very glad they reviewed his case. It’s a grown-up, sensible approach. I am pleased Coleman is here and I want to make sure he is given every opportunity to compete and be one of the faces of these championships.”

Let’s say that again: “…be one of the faces of these championships.”

Coleman turned 9.98 in the prelims, the only one in the field to go under 10. “It felt great,” he said afterward. To the BBC, he shot a cold glance. 

In the semifinals, he ran hard for 85 meters, then shut it down. He crossed in 9.88. Again, no one else ran under 10. 

In the finals, it was really no contest. Coleman took the lead early and then extended it. As he crossed the line, he bellowed — a great roar. 

Later, he said, “This is the best day of my life,” adding a moment later, “I’m the world champion, man.”