Gatlin pays re­spect to Bolt, but can’t stop the boo­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - PAT GRA­HAM

Years from now, Justin Gatlin will re­mem­ber the bow more than the cho­rus of boos.

OK, so Gatlin may have ru­ined Usain Bolt’s go­ing-away party with his sur­prise win in the 100 me­tres at the world cham­pi­onships on Sat­ur­day night. Gatlin still did his best to soften the blow by bow­ing down to third-place fin­isher Bolt on his way off the track — a way of telling the peo­ple he knows what the Ja­maican great has done for his sport.

“I have noth­ing but re­spect for him,” said Gatlin, who, at 35, is five years Bolt’s se­nior. “Even with me be­ing older than him, he’s such an in­spi­ra­tion for me.”

Gatlin was booed at al­most every turn this week in Lon­don — dur­ing in­tro­duc­tions, at any time when his face showed up on the big screen, and never louder than when his name popped up on the top of the score­board as the win­ner in Bolt’s farewell 100-me­tre race at the worlds.

By now, Gatlin is used to it. With his dop­ing past — his sus­pen­sion ended in 2010 — the Amer­i­can has long been por­trayed as the bad guy set against Bolt’s charis­matic, fun-lov­ing per­son­al­ity.

It doesn’t faze Gatlin any­more.

Gatlin in­sisted he doesn’t care what any­one thinks and said all the boos were just back­ground noise to him.

“I stayed fo­cused on what I had to do,” Gatlin said. “I guess be­cause I’ve be­come more of a ri­val for Usain, that’s where the boo­ing comes from. I didn’t get booed through­out 2010. No boos in ’11, no boos in ’12, and ’12 was here (for the Lon­don Olympics). Didn’t get boos in ’13, ’14 or ’15.

“Just to be able to come back, re­gard­less of boos, I still heard cheers.”

They came from his sup­port staff, his fam­ily, his friends. “That’s all I cared about,” he said. But about those friends — it sure is hard to be close to him and not be both­ered by the heck­lers.

“I felt a hurt for him,” his man­ager Re­naldo Ne­hemiah said. “I didn’t say any­thing to him, but I hurt for him. It was no­tice­able, ob­vi­ously. Then again, I also know Justin. He was go­ing to use that in the right way.

“I said, ‘At the end of the day, Justin, no one can con­trol what you do on the track. This is your world. It’s one lane, make the best of it.’”

And so he did. He was Olympic cham­pion in 2004, four years be­fore Bolt’s reign, and world cham­pion in ’17, with Bolt on the way out. Gatlin even bor­rowed some of Bolt’s tac­tics, surg­ing from be­hind with a fan­tas­tic fin­ish­ing kick to over­take Bolt and Chris­tian Cole­man, a fel­low Univer­sity of Ten­nessee prod­uct and new sil­ver medal­list. Gatlin’s time, 9.92 sec­onds, wasn’t all that elec­tric. But this was all about the win.

“It’s just so sur­real right now,” Gatlin said. “Usain said, ‘Con­grat­u­la­tions, you de­serve it.’ And that’s from the man him­self. He knows how hard I work.”

Bolt paid re­spect, too, and said the stereo­typ­i­cal cast­ing of Gatlin as a vil­lain has grown stale.

“He’s done his time and worked to be one of the best ath­letes,” Bolt said. “He’s one of the best com­peti­tors I’ve ever com­peted with. I know if I don’t show up, he’s al­ways gonna win.”

Two years ago at worlds, it al­most hap­pened.

Gatlin made a tac­ti­cal mis­take in Bei­jing, go­ing into his lean too early as Bolt won by 0.01 sec­onds. Hurt­ful as the loss was, an episode the next day dur­ing the medals cer­e­mony was worse. Gatlin could be seen point­ing to­ward the stands and chastis­ing a fan. Turns out, that fan was heck­ling his mother.

Gatlin fin­ished run­ner-up to Bolt at last year’s Olympics. Given the stakes for Bolt in Lon­don, this com­pe­ti­tion fig­ured to be a race for sec­ond.

Gatlin says he has no im­me­di­ate plans to re­tire and could be around for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

MARTIN MEISSNER, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gold-medal-win­ner Justin Gatlin kneels in front of Ja­maica’s Usain Bolt af­ter the 100-me­tre fi­nal in Lon­don on Sat­ur­day. Gatlin won gold with a time of 9.92 sec­onds. Bolt fin­ished third.

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