For­mer king of the track re­turns

But two dop­ing bans cast a long and dark shadow over Justin Gatlin

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GENE CHERRY

JUSTIN GATLIN is learn­ing how to sprint again, a fact that has lit­tle to do with the Amer­i­can’s four-year ab­sence from ath­let­ics un­der a dop­ing ban.

With a new coach and a new phi­los­o­phy on run­ning, the for­mer Olympic and world cham­pion is work­ing hard to get back to top speed.

“Ev­ery­thing I learned I had to throw it out the win­dow and learn a whole new tech­nique,” Gatlin said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Naples, Florida.

Max­i­mum ve­loc­ity is now his aim.

“Max­i­mum ve­loc­ity is your top end run­ning speed, the max­i­mum speed you can gen­er­ate down the track,” said Gatlin’s new coach, Loren Sea­grave. “Al­though peo­ple spend a heck of a lot of time on the start, it (max­i­mum ve­loc­ity) is the sin­gle big­gest de­ter­mi­nant of who wins and who doesn’t win,” said the vet­eran coach.

“Par­tic­u­larly in the men’s races, as they are looking at dip­ping well into the 9.5s, be­cause peo­ple are not de­cel­er­at­ing any more. The only rea­son they are de­cel­er­at­ing is be­cause of cel­e­bra­tion,” Sea­grave added.

Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100 me­tres cham­pion and 200m bronze medal­list, has not com­peted since 2006 when, then coached by Trevor Gra­ham, he failed a dop­ing test for ex­ces­sive amounts of testos­terone, the sec­ond pos­i­tive of his ca­reer.

He was banned for two years in 2001 for a failed test for am­phet­a­mines, but the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ath­let­ics Fed­er­a­tions (IAAF) re­duced the sus­pen­sion to one year af­ter Gatlin pointed out the sub­stance was found in med­i­ca­tion he had taken since child­hood for at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der.

His cur­rent ban ex­pires on July 24.

“I have a sec­ond chance to re­deem my­self,” said the soonto-be 28-year-old. “To go out and prove to the world that I am a great ath­lete.”

The goal was to have Gatlin run­ning some of the fastest times in the world by late Au­gust and early Septem­ber, Sea­grave said.

“He has got all the phys­i­cal tools to be able to run in the (9.) 70s, maybe even the 60s,” the coach said.

But it could be up to 18 months be­fore Gatlin reached his full po­ten­tial, Sea­grave stressed.

Fast 100m times will be nec­es­sary for Gatlin to keep up with to­day’s top sprint­ers – Ja­maican dou­ble world record holder Usain Bolt, Amer­i­can world sil­ver medal­list Tyson Gay and Ja­maican Asafa Pow­ell, the for­mer world record holder.

“I could beat them be­fore,” Gatlin said. “I don’t see why I can’t run with them. Times don’t scare me. You’ve got to re­spect the times but I feel if one man can do it, then the next man can.”

His per­sonal best of 9.85 sec­onds and even his 2006 world record-equalling 9.77sec that was nul­li­fied by his dop­ing ban are sig­nif­i­cantly slower, how­ever, than the best marks of Bolt (9.58) and Gay (9.69).

“I think he’s go­ing to have his hands full, not only by me and Asafa and Tyson, but other young and up­com­ing ath­letes,” Bolt told the Ja­maica Ob­server.

Gatlin, though, said he did not be­lieve his age or long ab­sence would be a de­ter­rent.

“I think that me sit­ting out for this while, hav­ing this hia­tus, has elon­gated my life in the sport,” he said. “I think it is prime time for me.”

Whether the 2005 dou­ble sprint world cham­pion will run again in prime time one-day meet­ings is de­bat­able.

Or­gan­is­ers of the new Di­a­mond League cir­cuit and key Euro­pean meet­ings have agreed in prin­ci­ple not to in­vite ath­letes who have served ma­jor dop­ing bans.

“If that’s how they feel at this point, that is how they feel,” Gatlin said. “Hope­fully (if) they want ex­cite­ment at their track, they want fast times and good com­pe­ti­tion, they will see past those kinds of things. I feel that it is so wrong for dif­fer­ent meets to try to black­ball peo­ple when th­ese peo­ple have been weighed and they have served their time.”

Both the IAAF and USA Track & Field (USATF) said they would not in­ter­fere with or­gan­is­ers de­ter­min­ing who com­petes in their meet­ings.

“Meet direc­tors have al­ways had the free­dom to use their own dis­cre­tion as to whom they in­vite,” USATF spokes­woman Jill Geer said in an e-mail.

The IAAF had a sim­i­lar re­ac­tion. “Our po­si­tion is sim­ply that the ath­lete is el­i­gi­ble af­ter com­ing back from dop­ing sus­pen­sion, and we don’t in­ter­fere with the choice of in­di­vid­ual meet­ing direc­tors,” spokesman Nick Davies said.

Gatlin has re­peat­edly de­nied know­ingly tak­ing per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs and has sev­ered all links with Gra­ham, who was banned for life from coach­ing af­ter be­ing con­victed of ly­ing to fed­eral agents in con­nec­tion with the Bay Area Lab­o­ra­tory Co-op­er­a­tive (BALCO) dop­ing scan­dal.

Twice last year, USATF sent Gatlin to tell his story to small groups of young ath­letes, fo­cus- ing on the im­por­tance of com­pet­ing clean and the con­se­quences of fail­ing a dop­ing test.

“We felt that young ath­letes could learn from Justin’s mis­takes,” Geer said.

Gatlin tried out for sev­eral Na­tional Foot­ball League teams without suc­cess be­fore de­cid­ing to stay in ath­let­ics.

“It was like, why should I be some­one like a walk-on or some­one try­ing to make his way up to the top, when I can go back to a sport where I once was a king,” Gatlin said. “I can’t be without track, and hope­fully track can’t be without me too long.”

GETTY IM­AGES

HEY­DAY: Justin Gatlin at the IAAF Grand Prix meet in Monaco in 2005.

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