LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Jul 4 – A lack of a clear favourite allied with a host of younger, blossoming athletes in the post-Usain Bolt era have made sprinting like a gunfight at the OK Corral, according to American veteran Justin Gatlin.
The controversial Gatlin, 37, is aiming for one last hurrah at the World Athletics Championships in Doha come September and will go there as reigning 100m world champion, having beaten Christian Coleman and Bolt to gold in the blue riband event at the 2017 London worlds.
Coleman is part of a group of young US sprinters including Michael Norman and Noah Lyles who are threatening to dominate in the years to come.
“I like where the sprints are right now,” said Gatlin, who won 100m gold at the 2004 Olympics but went on to serve a four-year ban for doping before rebounding with silver at the 2016 Rio Games, among other accolades.
“It’s like a gunshow at the OK Corral, you’ve got a lot of very talented athletes who are going to step up and that’s what makes people get into the seats to see who’s going to be the winner.
“It’s not always a clear favourite so you always have to be on top of your game and I like that a lot.”
Such is the US strength in depth in sprints, the national trials for a spot on the team for Doha promise to be absolutely top notch.
“I’ve been around for a while,” said Gatlin ahead of Friday’s Diamond League meet in Lausanne.
“But now it’s like a wave of talent came in the door… you have such dominance in the 100, 200 and 400m.
“You see a lot of young sprinters coming along and it’s a rarity to see young sprinters who are confident in themselves and in their abilities at such an early stage of their career.
“I’m excited to go to trials and see these guys do their thing, and I’m excited to be in the mix as well.”
– Rebirth of rivalries –
Gatlin will run the 100m in Lausanne, while 21-year-old Lyles competes in his favoured 200m, as he will do at the US trials in Des Moines, Iowa, on July 25-28.
“I like how now every race is now ‘who’s going to win?’ There are a lot of rivalries coming up, especially in the United States,” said Lyles.
“I’ve been waiting for this year since 2017,” he said after admitting to spending years watching Gatlin, Bolt and Tyson Gay dominate sprinting.
“Now it feels like this is my generation and it’s time where we get to step up and go to the world championships.”
Lyles added: “There’s no pressure, I really don’t have anything to lose since I haven’t made a team before. It’s about me going out there and giving my all.
“I’m amped up, more excited than anything to get out there and try to prove to people that I can be the best.”
Gatlin played down his age going into the September 28-October 6 worlds in Doha.
“It’s not necessarily about my age going into this season, this season is already an unorthodox season — we’ve never really explored running in October,” he said.
“It’s more or less about being more consistent and being patient at the same time.
“As competitors you want to run fast every time you step on the track, break records every time you step on the track, but knowing you have an extra two months to go it’s almost like a game of chess rather than chequers now.”