“I feel like I’m on top of the world and that’s where I want to stay,” expressed Justin Gatlin who once again added the preceding, descriptive title of World Champion to his name after capturing the 2012 World Indoor 60-meter Championship this March in Istanbul, Turkey.
Gatlin crossed the finish line in the winning time of 6.46 seconds, identical to his 2003 World Indoor victory over the same distance in Birmingham, UK nine years earlier. “It looks almost mirror image of me running when was I nineteen,” says Gatlin adding, “Now I have my confidence back; it shows in my indoor race.”
The sprinter actually credits his second place finish at the U.S. Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, NM for providing the extra level of determination to win the title. “I think sometimes that second place makes you work a little harder and it shows you what you need to fix to be a champion and I think that’s what happened in Albuquerque,” explains Gatlin drawing the comparison, “If you look back at my Olympics, I got second to Maurice Greene before going to the Olympics and winning the Olympics.”
Gatlin’s 9.85-second 100-meter Olympic victory in Athens 2004 is the third fastest time in Olympic history, but today the sprinter sees “something ridiculous, maybe something we haven’t seen yet; maybe from a few people coming across the finish line,” as the podium time requirement for London 2012. “I’m thinking about a 9.6 is going to take it, to win it, it’s going to be a fast race I believe,” adds Gatlin.
Running a 9.6 second time would require Gatlin to shave two-tenths off his personal best 9.85 set in Athens. Gatlin’s 9.766 set in Doha, Qatar on May 12, 2006 which had been subsequently rounded up to the then world record equaling time of 9.77 has since been rescinded due to the imposed 4-year suspension later that year in August due to a positive test for testosterone. And to that time-lowering goal Gatlin states that “one of the keys at helping [him] become fast again [is] dropping my weight … between 185 and 183 lbs.” Currently, Gatlin tips the scales at 186 lbs.
Now at age 30, the 2004 Olympic and 2005 World Champion for the 100-meter event, finds himself in a similar circumstance to the event’s 1991 World Champion, nine-time Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis who set the then world record time of 9.86 at the age of thirty. “Everyone says that once you reach that age between 28 to 30, you’re definitely peeking; and I think that the unfortunate situation of my hiatus sitting out the sport has giving me a shelf life,” surmises Gatlin adding, “I don’t have any injuries, no hamstring pulls, no surgeries; nothing that’s going to keep me out the sport. Right now, it’s just making sure that I stay healthy and I can go out there and do the job I am supposed to do.”
And what the former world record holder will look to do this outdoor season is “double for the Olympic Trials” this June in Eugene, OR. To that cause, Gatlin is “talking to some of the guys trying to put some relays together,” for the stat of his outdoor season, “[but hasn’t] negotiated any deals yet that will lock [him] in for the 100-meters,” adding “it looks like may be the Asian tour.” In addition to his 100-meter Olympic Gold in Athens, Gatlin received the Bronze in the 200-meters and the Silver in the 4x100-meter relay.
And it is that Men’s 4x100 meter relay where Gatlin perhaps could achieve his greatest redeeming victory not only himself and his relay team, but for his country that now ranks of paramount importance having been stripped of that privilege for four years. “We got to remember that when we step on that line, it’s not about Nike, it’s not about Adidas or Saucony or who you’re running for and what medal you’re trying to get not only for yourself but your shoe company; but it’s about those letters that are on your chest, U.S.A. And we got to come out there and remember that we’re facing the world and the world wants to take us down just as equal as we want to take them down,” demonstratively states Gatlin.
And the competitor, the self-described “fighter”, who sat on the sidelines from 2006 to 2010 with anguish watching Jamaica emerge at the forefront of the sprint world clearly wants to restore the US to victorious prominence and thinks that Team USA “will be able to put a great field together especially in the relay and go out there and break an American Record and World Record as well.” Jamaica’s team of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt recently improved the Men’s 4 x100-meter relay World Record time to 37.04 at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. The American Record stands at 37.40. Gatlin offers an intriguing and possibly a self-indicting observation of the recent Jamaican success, “I could just see the confidence building in Team Jamaica. I see the confidence building in their country and them getting backed with support by their country and that gave them the power to go out there and do great things, not just in the sprint world but in other events as well and I think that that’s what we lack as Team USA and the United States of America.”
Prior to his ban, to whatever degree success and accolades may have impeded his personal constitution, of his prolonged ordeal Gatlin reveals, “It grew me up to be a man not just in the world, but in the sports world as well,” explaining, “I went through so much ups and downs, I had a long journey … I could have just stayed focused those four years and then once I stepped back on the track I could have ran a sub-10 right off the top. That’s 20/20 hindsight [but] there was no roads on this path at all … it was a mountain climb.”
Fortunately, along the life altering journey, Gatlin’ pre-ban agent, former 110-meter Hurdles World Record Holder Renaldo Nehemiah, who himself was denied the ability to represent his country and had his livelihood threatened due to the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games, extended a lifeline during his former client’s downtime. “He is a guy who tells it to you straight, if it is good or bad news, and sometimes you need those kind of people in your corner. He’s been a stellar athlete. And someone like that, I look [to] for guidance and he’s given it to me and throughout my time in my dark hours, he made sure he was there for me regardless. And that meant a lot to me. It’s definitely one of the things that pushed me to come back and to want to show the world that I’m still a talented sprinter,” offers a grateful Gatlin.
And now the talented sprinter again sits atop the sprint mountain humbly stating ‘it just feels like home again. It feels real good.”