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Gatlin eyes Olympic podium

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REIMS, France, July 5- Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion who served a four-year doping ban, runs in the Reims international meet on Tuesday insisting his goal is a podium place at the 2012 London Games.

“I’m still working hard. My coach told me to be patient and that the goal is the 2012 Olympics,” said Gatlin.

“If I’m on the podium in London, which is a real objective, then I’ll be able to consider my return to be fully accomplished.”

Gatlin’s four-year drugs ban saw him plummet from sprinting’s pinnacle to athletics wilderness, but he has rebounded to make the US team for the 100m at the August 27-September 4 world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

Three months after equalling the world 100m record in 2006, he was suspended for four years after testing positive for testosterone.

That was considered his second doping offence, following a 2001 violation for a banned stimulant, resulting in a longer ban.

He has never admitted to knowingly using banned drugs, but he lost two appeals and failed in a legal battle to compete at the 2008 US Olympic trials for a chance to defend his Games gold in Beijing.

Since his return last year, he has been shunned by many of the sport’s major meeting organisers.

He raced in an elite Diamond League meeting for the first time when he lined up in the 100m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene earlier in June.

But Gatlin, 29, is now appearing at several smaller European meets in preparation for Daegu.

“Last year, I resumed competition in Estonia and competed in six meets in Europe. I take what they offer me and it’s a great pleasure,” he said, adding that he would run in Madrid on Saturday and then twice in Italy after the Reims meet.

He insisted that missing out on the Diamond League meets did not unduly concern him.

“In Reims, four of the world’s best sprinters will be lining up,” he argued. “I’ve come for a good time. I really want to go sub-10 seconds.

“I ran three times at the US trials, with a second place in the final and the best time (of 9.95sec) since my return.

“My coach Brooks Johnson thinks I can go quicker.”

Gatlin had nothing but praise for current double world and Olympic sprint champion, Usain Bolt of Jamaica.

“He’s helped get our sport more media coverage,” he said. “By running (his 100m world record of) 9.58sec, he has opened the dreams of many others.

“He gives young people the desire to run like him. I’ve seen many tapes: it’s he who has come closest to reaching perfection, but the perfect race does not exist.

“I want to believe that it’s an advantage not to race against Bolt before the worlds. But I take each meeting as a chance to make progress.”

Gatlin added that he had made the right decision to stay with track and field despite his four years in the wilderness.

“I thought about stopping my career after what was offered me in American football,” he acknowledged.

“But I realised it wasn’t my thing and that I was made to run. Lots of people have supported me and pushed me to come back.”

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