Gatlin - 'I let my fans do the talking and I do the walking'

Gatlin - ‘I let my fans do the talking and I do the walking’

Friday 12 August 2005

Helsinki, Finland - The record American sweep of the first four places in the final of the 200 metres at the 10th IAAF World Championships represents the dawn of a new sprint era, said Justin Gatlin after completing the 100 and 200m double.

Still holding court after midnight, more than two hours after his Helsinki victory in 20.04, the 23-year-old Gatlin promised to make it three golds, in the relay. Given the sight of four Americans galloping apocalyptically over the line, few would bet against it.

“Now it’s two golds down. One more to go for me,” he said.

Gatlin became only the second man to achieve the sprint double in the history of these championships, after Maurice Greene in 1999. At Olympic level the club is less exclusive, eight members in 109 years, but with only three admissions since World War II: Carl Lewis (19840, Valeriy Borzov (1972), and Bobby Morrow (1956).

He also joined an even more elite assembly: those who have held the World and Olympic crown simultaneously: Lewis, Linford Christie, Donovan Bailey, and Greene.

“I think I can be in the league with Maurice throughout my career, but I have to do the same thing to be his equal,” he had observed before the race. “No-one has done what he’s done. Nobody’s won nine Olympic gold medals, like Carl Lewis, but they’re considered great athletes in their own right. Hopefully I can stand among them when my career is over.”

The World record

He took a huge step forward in Helsinki, but knows the World record would bring him closer to greatness.

So it was to his credit that he avoided the: “Bring on Powell” trap. He displayed commendable style in saying he doesn’t wish to rush into a race against World record holder Powell in Zurich this month. The Jamaican was absent through injury, and there seemed genuine concern.

“Right now, I want Asafa to get well,” said Gatlin. "He should take his time. A groin injury can be career-threatening. I will still be around, waiting for him. I am not going away. I want to knock him down when he is fit, not beat him when he is down with injury.

“Most definitely I can make history again. I want to win every medal and every championship open to me. The world record is a definite possibility, in the right conditions, and with the right people in the race. If I can run sound from start to finish, the record is within my grasp . . . It’s a matter of instinct, guts, and talent.”

He said he himself would have to, “be wary of the younger guys. This is the start of a new era, a changing of the guard. Maurice Greene? He’s on his way out, and the younger guys are coming up quickly. I’ll have to fight them off. Everyone has got to sit in their seat, and watch. They can’t afford to go to the bathroom on this one.”

The sport is getting younger

He said it was surprising how the new generation had come together so quickly. "Everyone has stepped up a gear, and you have to prove you are capable of coming back if you get beaten.

“The day of the 18-year-old World champion is just round the corner. They are learning how to act like veterans, without being veterans.”

He acknowledged that he had his own demons to overcome in the race. “I wanted to come fast out of the curve, and concentrate on the speed and technique,” he said, “but I was a bit scared coming off the bend, because I didn’t know how the other guys were doing.”

That he stayed focused speaks of his own maturity.

“I am happy to be here. I am here to make history, and I want to thank the supporters. It was a powerful race, and a great victory for us. I want to show the world that I am the champion.”

It was measured, not hysterical. Gatlin, who once hoped to graduate with an art degree, maintains a sense of perspective. “To be on the straight and narrow is hard sometimes,” he said in an earlier conversation. “You want to be boastful and liven up the show, but to what degree? Will you be considered confident, or cocky? Basically you want to go out there, be yourself, and run the best race you can.”

Not cocky, arrogant, or condescending

He assuredly lived up to that, but in the heat of the moment, it would have been easy for a strutting, posturing monster to emerge.

He acknowledges that he draws on his manager, Renaldo Nehemiah, who set three world records at 110m hurdles, taking it from 13.21 in 1977 to 12.93 by 1981. It has advanced to only 12.91 in 24 years.

“When they no longer have to cheer for you, you’ll find how well loved you are, remembered long after your earning days on the track are gone,” said Nehemiah, "and I never won an Olympic title. It’s like the enduring affection for Palmer and Nicklaus in golf.”

“Justin sees how I am accepted, even revered. He’s heard and knows so much of what I had done, and being the person he is, he is already getting greater peer respect. He is not just another brash American sprinter full of trash talk.”

There was evidence that the lesson had sunk in when Gatln turned to embrace his three colleagues on securing his historic win.

“He had done something that no other collegiate athlete had ever done, yet he was not cocky, arrogant, or condescending,” said Nehemiah. "He lets his running do the talking. It’s so unlike what we have seen from some other American sprinters. You hear them before you see them.

“No matter how large the margin of victory, he doesn’t disregard the opposition. You saw him with the three guys. Most others want it all for themselves.”

“He is an athlete of the people. He has fun, he wants to feel exhilarated, but he is completely humble. His feet are still on the ground.”

Gatlin agreed that he had drawn on Nehemiah. “I let my fans do the talking and I do the walking. You don’t want to look foolish. You have to prove you can back up what you say, otherwise you can fall flat on your face. Lots of athletes do that, but I’ve modelled myself on what Renaldo has taught me . . .how to be a champion, how to be competitive, and how to be a student of track and field.”

Doug Gillon - The Herald - for the IAAF

Doubling up in the 100 and the 200 is just adding to this guy’s legacy. This guy just might surpass Carl Lewis as the best one-two punch sprinter in US history. I hope he completes a stellar World Performance by taking gold in the 4x1