After every new Whereabouts Failure case — such as the news of Gabby Thomas missing 3 doping tests in 2019 — there are many fans that are left asking, “What is a whereabouts failure exactly?”
Whereabouts failures are a crucial instrument in USADA’s toolkit, they hold athletes accountable to testing dates so that they can’t just run away from a possible positive test.
Now, 1 missed filing date (that is filing your locations for the quarter) or 1 missed test isn’t enough to trigger a ban. According to USADA, “Any cumulation of three Missed Tests or Filing Failures in a 12-month period can result in a potential ADRV (Anti-Doping Rule Violation) and a period of ineligibility of up to two years for a first violation.”
Does a Whereabouts Failure = a positive doping test?
Not exactly, while a first violation for both a Whereabouts Failure and testing positive for banned substances are the same, we can never assume that someone was on a banned substance for missing multiple test. Is it suspect? Absolutely. Is it hard to fathom that a professional athlete would be careless enough to not update their location with USADA? 100%. However, we can never assume something in the absence of evidence.
I say this in the aftermath of Christian Coleman’s successful 2019 appeal of his Whereabouts Failure. At the time, the community — myself included — was ready to disown Coleman as a drug cheat but after Coleman’s appeal it turns out that the first whereabouts failure was not inside the 12 month window. I am still very skeptical on how an Olympian and US Champion can openly miss 3 tests in any period of time but after asking around… it happens more than we would typically think.
At the time, I reached out to my sources in the professional running circuit and I quickly recieved this response from the agent of a fellow Olympian,
“Yeah, it can happen. You just have to be on top of things, and diligent..the app can sometimes do funny things like any app..not save when you think you saved it”
Here’s Kara Goucher explaining the process:
A 12 month period is a long time, so I think most of us can understand 1 or even 2 late failings or mixups in testing. However, when you know you are on your last chance there is no way that a 3rd missed test comes unless you are actively trying to hide something or being purposefully obtuse.
So in conclusion, anti-doping can be messy and othen isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like it to be, especially when an athlete successfully wins an appeal. A Whereabouts Failure is inexcusable but it is slightly better than an outright failed test.
Hopefully this cleared things up,