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Gatlin on Top of the World
By Steve Ritchie - Special to the Pensacola News Journal
June 26, 2011

Left to right: Justin Gatlin and Ivory Williams

EUGENE - This weekend at the U.S. Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, I had the opportunity to cover Justin Gatlin for the Pensacola News Journal. The former Olympic 100 meter champion attended Woodham High School in Pensacola, and has a lot of fans in that area.

Gatlin was a big story at the nationals. This was his first major meet, other than the Prefontaine Classic, since returning to competition after a four-year suspension for a positive drug test. Gatlin has never admitted using PEDs and blamed the positive test result on a massage therapist using testosterone cream on him without his knowledge. It's a claim that doesn't seem credible to a lot of people, and, partly since the LMT in question, Chris Whetstine, is known and respected here, didn't win Gatlin many fans in these parts.

Left to right: Justin Gatlin and Ivory Williams (click photo for large view)

Yet, many of the people I spoke with this weekend are Gatlin fans. The sports editor of the News Journal speaks highly of him, and says he has always maintained a good relationship with the reporters at the paper. I talked with several other sprinters at the meet, and all were supportive of Gatlin in his return. His coach, Brooks Johnson, says he doesn't question Gatlin's character.

I have to admit I enjoyed talking with Gatlin. He is personable, colorful and engaging. He obviously loves track and field. He was very accessible to me this weekend, and spoke at length with the media after each of the rounds at nationals.

Love him or hate him, Justin Gatlin is back, and he will likely be a major player at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu this summer.

Here's the folio I did for the News Journal:

Left to right: Walter Dix, Justin Gatlin and Charles Silmon

One day after qualifying for the World Track & Field Championships in the 100 meters, Woodham High School grad and former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin said he is more focused than ever and excited about what lies ahead this summer.

In a wide-ranging interview at his hotel in Eugene, Oregon, where the U.S. National Championships are being contested, Gatlin said that he is looking back to the past to gain inspiration for the future.

"It makes me hungry. It brings me back to a flashback of 2004, when I didn't win the Trials, but I did go on to win the 100 meters in the Olympics. Not winning the Trials made me more hungry. I see now what it takes. I'm determined, I'm focused, I'm ready for the next step, and to stay healthy."

Gatlin admitted that not leaning at the tape probably cost him the win in the 100 meters final on Friday evening in the race at historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus. Walter Dix, the former Florida State standout, edged Gatlin by .01 seconds.

"If I leaned like he leaned, I would have been the clear victor," Gatlin said.

Still, finishing second by a whisker in the national championships is a long way from where Gatlin was a year ago, languishing in the last year of a four-year drug IAAF suspension.

Justin Gatlin, Hayward Field - University of Oregon

Gatlin said that he was not totally dedicated to training during the long period when he was unable to compete. He was occupied with the gym he owns and with pursuing a possible NFL career. In the end, he decided that the best course was to return to sprinting.

"My heart told me to stick with track and field. It told me to come back to the sport where you once were a king.

"My son, Jace, has helped me to become more focused and determined, too. He is one of the biggest reasons for me to come back to the sport. I don't want his last name to be a burden, but to be a name that commands respect."

During his time away from the sport, Gatlin still followed it avidly.

"I watched everything. I'm a fan. Every chance I got to watch I did. I keep up with everything because I want to be an announcer someday."

Gatlin's immediate plans are to compete in a meet in France on July 5, and then travel to Madrid for a meet four days later. Following those appearances, Gatlin will attend a U.S. relay camp for the sprinters who will be on the 4 x 1 team.

He said that the team aspect of running on the relay will be a nice change from the highly-individual nature of elite track and field. Even without Tyson Gay, Gatlin thinks the U.S. team will have a shot to win.

"This is a time for us to come together, and go out and bring the gold medal back to the U.S. Beat the Jamaicans."

When asked why he received so much support from his fellow sprinters and other athletes, not to mention track fans around the world, Gatlin said,"It is a question of character. I have never changed the person I am. I have been the same guy always.

"When I was on top I was shaking hands, hugging people, wishing them good luck. When I was down, I was still doing the same thing . . . now that I am back, it's the same and that's why people speak good about me.

"I am excited and pumped. I can seriously say that I haven't felt this way in a long time."

 
 

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