Justin Gatlin: Complete Sprinter


Hungry for more success Gatlin aims at World Championships titles
Wednesday 27 April 2005
Leaving Athens last summer with a complete collection of medals - gold in the 100m, silver in the 4x100m relay and bronze in the 200m - was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg for Justin Gatlin. This summer he hopes to do the same, if not better, at the World Championships in Helsinki.

The engaging 23-year-old doesn’t hesitate when asked if his summer plans include contesting both dashes in the Finnish capital. “Most definitely,” he said. “I’m not a complete athlete unless I can go out there and compete in two races.”

Justin Gatlin of the US celebrates winning the 100m
(Getty Images)

Last August at Olympic Stadium, Gatlin vividly displayed how “complete” he’s already become. First, he emerged victorious in one of the finest 100 metre races ever, reaching the line in a personal best 9.85. Next came his bronze medal winning performance in the half lap, completing a U.S. podium sweep. Filling in the few remaining pages of his Athens scrapbook, he ran the second leg on the silver medal quartet that finished just 1/100 of a second behind the victorious British squad.

Surprisingly, his Olympic medal haul came without winning a 100m race all year. But to Gatlin, who survived the arduous eight-race U.S. Olympic Trials process with a pair of runner-up performances, collecting a win prior to reaching the sport’s biggest stage didn’t particularly matter much in the grander scheme of things.

“My only goal was to win the Olympics,” he said. “My season was about getting my technique right. I really wasn’t trying to go out there and win a race, per se. I wasn’t going to go out and put all my effort into winning and ducking at the line. I wanted to win when it counted, and I did.”

An aerial viw of Justin Gatlin in the heats of the 200m
(Getty Images)

I want to promote the sport

Gatlin knows that the job description of “World’s Fastest Human” on the track includes numerous responsibilities off the track. And while admittedly hectic, he’s more than happy to oblige.

“I know once I’m on TV, I’m a role model. I know kids are watching me. That’s part of my job. I want to promote the sport.” Promoting his sport has been a prevailing theme with Gatlin since his Athens victory, and it’s a role he relishes. “Without track and field, there would be no Justin Gatlin. I don’t mind being an ambassador.”

Justin Gatlin is congratulated by training partner Shawn Crawford after winning Olympic 100m title
(Getty Images)

In the crowded field of the “fame game” in the United States, it’s not easy for a track & field athlete to achieve celebrity. But don’t tell Gatlin that, because he’s certainly trying. And if his recent track record continues, he might even succeed.

After the Olympics, national television appearances were on the agenda. His image graced the cover of a Wheaties cereal box, a crowning achievement for any U.S. athlete. He walked the red carpet at the Emmy Awards and marshaled community parades. In a few weeks, he, along with Maurice Greene, Lauryn Williams and Allyson Felix, will make a racing appearance on the season’s finale of “The Apprentice,” one of the top-rated television shows in the U.S. “Yes,” he said, Donald Trump was there watching.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Gatlin said of his post-Olympic schedule. “Not only have I been dubbed fastest man in the world, I’ve been dubbed a celebrity in some cases.”

Last weekend, he cut the ceremonial ribbon at New York City’s new state-of-the-art Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island. “When I got there,” he said, “I got mobbed by about 50 people. At first I thought I was [pop singer] Justin Timberlake, not Justin Gatlin.”

At another event, he was met by a screaming throng of teenaged girls. Laughing, he remarked, “I said I was going to start my own boy band, with all the 15-year-old girls I seem to be popular with.”

“Honestly,” he continued,” with me winning the Olympics and starting off my career, I don’t have as many accolades as Maurice Greene, Michael Johnson or Marion Jones. My way of giving back to the kids and making myself popular is signing as many autographs as I can and spending as much time as I can with them.”

Season opens at Penn Relays

He’s likely to do much the same thing when he kicks off his 2005 season at the Penn Relays on Saturday, the traditional spring event he likens to the NBA All-Star Game. The line-ups are still tentative, but with training partner Shawn Crawford, Coby Miller and himself facing Britons Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis, half of last summer’s gold medal winning squad, “revenge” of sorts is on the agenda.

“They ran a very good race,” he said. “We had more mistakes than they did, so they came out victorious. It was their time to win. Hopefully,” he added with a smile, “it will be their last time to win as long as I’m running.”

The following weekend, he’ll make his first individual start at the Osaka Grand Prix in Japan where he’ll run the 100m. Appearances at the Doha Super Grand Prix and the Prefontaine Classic Grand Prix in Eugene will follow.

Gatlin admitted that winning the Olympic title at 22 does have its setbacks.

Helsinki World Champs main goal of the year

“Honestly, after the Olympics, I was very content with what I had done. I had accomplished my life dream since I was eight years old. But I didn’t want to be Olympic champion in 2004 and that was it. When track season started this year, I became hungry again. I can’t think about the Olympics anymore, I have to think about the World Championships this year.”

To help get him there, he’s feeding off of Crawford, his training partner, friend and Olympic 200 metre champion.

“Both of us are really hungry now. I know Shawn wants to accomplish more this year in the 100m, and I’d like to do more in the 200m.”

Gatlin said that while he’ll race more in the short dash, he’s currently putting more emphasis on the 200 in training. “I’ve been known to be a natural 200 metre runner, and my top-end speed comes the longer the race goes.”

In the fiercely competitive sprint game, there are other setbacks as well, among them, being a marked man.

“My teammates [Jamaican Dwight Thomas, Marcus Brunson, and Crawford] are looking good, and I know competition is going to get even more heated when the time comes to start competing against people outside my camp.” In short, Gatlin expects nothing but fierce battles as the season progresses.

“I think it’s going to be a dogfight for me with Asafa [Powell] and Leonard Scott back in the mix of thing. You have a lot of stars coming out. At the same time you have a lot of excitement going on in track and field. Hopefully,” he concluded, “I’ll be able to stay afloat.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF