EUGINE, June 29 – Controversial US sprinter Justin Gatlin signalled his intention to reign again on the world stage on Sunday, seizing the US 200m title in a blazing 19.57sec.
The victory at the US Athletics Championships raised the prospect of a mouthwatering double duel with sprint king Usain Bolt at the August 22-30 World Championships in Beijing.
It was a dominant performance, Gatlin coming off the turn with a clear lead and powering home to become the fifth-fastest man ever at the distance.
With his career-best performance, the 33-year-old improved on his own prior season-leading time of 19.68, set on the same Hayward Field track at the Eugene Diamond League meeting in May.
With his 100m berth in Beijing assured by virtue of his 2014 Diamond League title, Gatlin had skipped the 100m at the US Championships.
His focus on the 200 paid off handsomely, as over the course of two days he delivered three sub-20 second races: leading Saturday’s heats in a seemingly effortless 19.92 before posting 19.90 in Sunday’s semi-finals.
“I would say it’s the most complete, technically, 200 I ever ran,” Gatlin said of the final — although after an excellent start he was surprised to see training partner Isiah Young in front of him going into the turn.
That didn’t last long, as Gatlin swept to the lead, leaving Young to finish second in 19.93 with Wallace Spearmon third in 20.10.
Gatlin nevertheless believes there is room for improvement, and he’ll review all of the rounds looking for ways to gain precious fractions of a second.
“It’s all about strategy and technique,” he said.
Gatlin, who owns the top 100m time this year of 9.74sec has sounded bullish on his chances of breaking Bolt’s 100m world mark of 9.58sec.
Whether he can approach Bolt’s 200m world record of 19.19 — or Michael Johnson’s American record of 19.32 — seems less certain.
“Growing up, to even speak of a 19.3 — that’s Michael Johnson,” Gatlin said. “You can’t even say the words that you look up to that, or look up to him — 19.3 was something unfathomable.”
Nevertheless, Gatlin will do all he can to get there, even as critics continue to point out that his current success comes in the wake of two doping bans, the most recent a four-year suspension that ended in 2010.
“I’m going to go out there and give 100 percent effort every time I have an opportunity to do so,” Gatlin said. “If 19.3 is in the scope then I’ll go for that.”
Whether the world is ready to see Gatlin — the 2004 100m Olympic gold medallist and the 100m and 200m world champion in 2005 — reign again on the world stage is not his concern.
“I don’t know,” he said. “And at this point in time all I worry about is myself. I wake up with Justin Gatlin. I go to sleep with Justin Gatlin. I have to cross the finish line — that’s going to benefit me the most.”