EUGENE (AFP) – For Justin Gatlin, whose four-year drugs ban saw him plummet from sprinting’s pinnacle to athletics wilderness, booking a World Championships berth marks a new start.
“The importance of me making this team was the equivalent of me making my first Olympic team,” Gatlin said after he finished runner-up to Walter Dix in the 100m at the US athletics championships to claim a spot on the team for the Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August.
“I went through so much adversity,” he said.
Gatlin won Olympic 100m gold in 2004. Three months after equaling the world record in 2006, he was suspended for four years after testing positive for testosterone.
That was considered his second doping offence, following a 2001 violation for a banned stimulant, resulting in a longer ban.
He has never admitted to knowingly using banned drugs, but he lost two appeals and failed in a legal battle to compete at the 2008 US Olympic trials for a chance to defend his Games gold in Beijing.
Since his return last year, he has been shunned by many of the sport’s major meeting organizers. He raced in an elite Diamond League meeting for the first time when he lined up in the 100m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene earlier in June.
Now Gatlin is eager to prove that at 29, and after four years away from competition, he can be among sprinting’s elite and challenge Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt, whose 100m world record stands at 9.58.
“I have to prepare myself within these next nine weeks to go out there and train like I’m going to run and win a gold medal,” Gatlin said.
“I don’t think anybody trains for a silver or bronze. If they do, then they don’t need to be in the sport anymore.”
After a tongue-lashing from coach Brooks Johnson on his start technique before the final, Gatlin powered out of the blocks to take the early lead in the final.
Gatlin wept after crossing the finish line just one one-hundredth of a second behind Dix on Friday as he realized what he had accomplished.
“I think that before the finish line, I just let it all out with a roar,” Gatlin said. “After I crossed the finish line, I just cried. I just let it all out.”
Dix, a double bronze medallist at the Beijing Games, said he had no issues racing against — and teaming with — an athlete who served a doping ban.
“I don’t know Justin’s story specifically,” Dix said. “If he did or if he didn’t, there’s people still in the sport doping today and they’re not getting caught.
“His talent is not questionable. For him to run that type of time is only right for Justin Gatlin.”