Sunday 25 September 2016

Another sorry episode for athletics as Gatlin rules sprinting world

Donny Mahoney

Published 01/07/2015 | 02:30

Justin Gatlin has had an incredible career, blighted by a suspension for doping
Justin Gatlin has had an incredible career, blighted by a suspension for doping

Another week, another Justin Gatlin milestone.

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The gold medallist in 100m in the 2004 Olympics obliterated all-comers in the 200 metres at US championships.

Gatlin is the fifth-fastest man in history in the race and the fastest over 100m and 200m this year.

Gatlin's incredible career arc - gold in Athens, four years out of the sport, world's fastest man at age 33 - might make for the greatest sports movie narrative of all time were it not for the fact that those four years away from the track were the result of a doping suspension.

As Usain Bolt's form rots, Justin Gatlin is now the face of sprinting. With the Worlds in August and Rio 13 months away, that is a massive PR problem for a sport that specialises in PR problems.

Gatlin himself sounded surprised by his form in an interview with 'Sports Illustrated' last week: "Did I expect to come back and run this fast in the 100? No. I didn't. But I don't want to sit back and be an audience to my own life. I'm just happy to be back where I am, man."

Even a casual athletics fan who had spent the past 30 years on a desert island without Wi-Fi would be dubious about Gatlin's achievements since his comeback.

Gatlin served one of the sternest punishments for an elite sprinter at the height of his powers. He ran 9.74 in Doha in May. He won gold in Athens 11 years ago by running 9.85.

Sprinters, by nature, do not get better in their 30s. And the ones that have (Linford Christie comes to mind) tend to end up on the wrong side of the anti-doping authorities.

Gatlin insists he is clean. He will likely win gold in the 100m and 200m in Beijing next month. He doesn't seem too bothered what others say or write about him. If he did, he probably wouldn't have hired Dennis Mitchell as a coach. (Mitchell, of course, finished third in Seoul and was banned for two years in 1998 for doping.) The same goes for US Track, who hired Mitchell as a coach.

The whole tawdry recent history of doping in US sprinting converges in Gatlin. It stands to be another sorry, agonising year for those who still love watching athletics.

Irish Independent

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