Gatlin eyes

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Gatlin eyes

Justin Gatlin’s bid for an Olympic comeback eight years after winning gold and following a four-year doping ban comes down to showing the world that he is a legitimate champion after all.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sat 23 Jun 2012, 11:32 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:18 PM

Gatlin’s quest hits the make or break moment this weekend in the 100 meters at the US Olympic trials, which he enters with the fastest 100 in the world by an American this year at 9.87 seconds from a victory last month at Doha.

“For me, it’s almost like a welcoming home party,” Gatlin said on Thursday. “I don’t think anybody expected me to get this far. Just being able to come back and compete is a victory in itself.

“It’s the first time in a long time I feel excited like a little kid again.”

Gatlin won 100 meters gold at Athens and 100 and 200 world titles in 2005, but he tested positive for doping and was banned from 2006-2010. Critics say he should not even have a chance for another Olympic appearance after shaming the sport.

“There was a point in my life when I was torn up,” Gatlin said. “That’s why I intend to show my detractors and naysayers that I am a legitimate athlete.

“I might not be one of the most charismatic guys out there, but I’m one of the bravest.” At 30, Gatlin sees himself as a winner just by getting in position to qualify for London by being one of the top three in Sunday’s 100 final.

“People just want to see how far the ride takes me,” he said.

“When I line up against those other seven guys, I can say I’m victorious. I can say I know what my worth is as an athlete. I know what it’s like to have a talent and not be able to use it and that makes me appreciate it even more.

“I’m a little older but also a little wiser and a little grittier.”

Gatlin’s fall from grace forced him to grow up, the days of sponsor money and high living replaced by working to pay bills.

“My life was track and field since high school. I didn’t really have time to grow, learn what it was to pay bills, take on everyday life,” he said. “I realized life is hard and something you work hard at. It gave me a chance to understand life in a hole.”

Gatlin said watching the 2008 trials and not being allowed to compete was bittersweet, but his victory at Doha — the fastest 2012 time not run by Jamaican stars Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake or Asafa Powell — gave him confidence.

“It was the victory in Doha that helped me decide I’m back. It was a discovery for me,” he said. “It gave me a lot of incentive to shape up, run hard and leave no room for errors.” Last October, Gatlin joined forces with coach Dennis Mitchell, a 1992 100 meter Olympic bronze medalist who was hit with a two-year doping ban in 1998.

“He has brought in a lot of mental sharpness, awareness — he still has a lot of aggressiveness in him,” Gatlin said.

“He makes slight changes here and there. He felt like I had a lot of lazy footsteps. He wanted me to have a stronger turnover. He felt there was a lot of room for improvement. I’ve gone home, gotten some good training and I’m ready to challenge the best in the world.”

Mitchell has worked to maximise Gatlin’s every stride.

“The issue is to go into Justin’s body and make him do what he can do,” said Mitchell. “I wouldn’t say I had to rebuild him. I had to fortify the base. All I did was kind of sharpen him.

“To run the speeds these guys are running requires a lot of technical focus. There’s a lot of room for improvement but at the same time there’s a lot more room for mistakes. We’ve been able to reduce the chances of those mistakes.

“Things in these races are so minute, so precise, that there’s a millisecond between success and failure. There’s a very small range between first and fourth. We’re going to have to have our best time just to make the team.” Doping bans and Gatlin’s final legacy are not used as motivating tools.

“We know Justin has some good and bad things going on in his past. We don’t focus on that,” Mitchell said. “My goal is to take his dreams and try to make them real. Any other weight is unnecessary.”

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