Justin Gatlin teleconference excerpts
Director of Communications
USA Track & Field
USA Track & Field on Tuesday hosted a teleconference with Olympic 100-meter gold medalist, 200m bronze medalist and 4x100m silver medalist Justin Gatlin. Gatlin will compete this Saturday, April 30, at USA vs. The World at the Penn Relays, the first stop of USA Track & Field’s 2005 Outdoor Visa Championship Series. Below are excerpts from the teleconference.
Q: Tell us about your life off the track since Athens.
A: It’s been a whirlwind. Not only have I been dubbed fastest man in the world, I’ve been dubbed a celebrity in some cases. I try to give back to the community. Last weekend I was in New York rebirthing the Icahn track on Randall’s Island. I’m trying to help promote the sport.
Q: How is your training?
A: It’s been going good. I have good teammates.
Q: How do you feel about running against the Brits again, at USA vs. The World?
A: I guess no ill will was given from me towards the Brits. They ran a very good race [at the Olympics]. We had more mistakes than they did, so they came out victorious. It was their time to win. Hopefully it will be their last time to win as long as I’m running.
… Penn has always been the equivalent of the all-star game in basketball. You have the greatest in the world coming together on the same team. We’re all out there to have fun but at the same time run fast. There is no pent-up hostility, but at the same time, we’re there to compete and do it for the crowd.
Q: What other races to do you have planned coming up?
A: I’m heading to Osaka, Japan, on May 7th.
Q: When you were at the Icahn Track dedication, you got a really warm reception from the kids.
A: Honestly, 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. When I got there [to Icahn] I got mobbed by about 50 people. At first I thought I was Justin Timberlake, not Justin Gatlin. I said I was going to start my own boy band, with all the 15-year-old girls I seem to be popular with. … Without track and field, there would be no Justin Gatlin. I don’t mind being an ambassador.
Q: Are you a marked person this year?
A: Most definitely. I like to play a low-key role. My teammates 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.
Q: You had not won a race anywhere until the Olympics. What did the Olympic win mean to you?
A: That was my whole goal the whole season. My only goal was to win the Olympics. 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. I hope people don’t think it was a fluke, because I went out to Japan and ran well there, too.
Q: You have to have a certain calm to do well in the 100. Is that natural, or so you work to develop it?
A: I think it’s a little bit of both. I haven’t really been the hype man, especially before a race. I’ve always been the calm, cool and collected person. You might see me pacing - that’s about as excited as I get. I can’t get excited or I’ll rush my technique and the race.
Q: You had a very long wait in the 200 with hostile crowd at the Olympics.
A: I think throughout the history of my career, I’ve always been a better 200-meter runner than 100-meter runner. I can say the 200 was more of a challenge for me at the Olympics, because after I won the 100, I was up until 4:30 in the morning getting a massage, getting ready for the 200 the next day. Coming into the finals, I was just happy to make it to the finals. All the commotion, we knew that was going to happen. I was just glad to be at the finals.
Q: Will you double in the 100 and 200 at Helsinki?
A: Most definitely. I’m not a complete athlete unless I can go out there and compete in two races.
Q: What are some of the other races you have planned this year?
A: Japan and Doha. After that it’s up in the air - of course, Prefontaine. I’ll run the 100 at Doha and Pre.
Q: Will you emphasize one race over the other this year?
A: Not necessarily. I’ve been known to be a natural 200-meter runner, and my top-end speed comes the longer the race goes. I’m probably working more on the 200 in practice, but you’ll see more 100s than 200s out of me this year.
Q: There are always new guys coming up. Have you been observing Wallace Spearmon?
A: I think he’s a great athlete. I talked to him at the Olympic Trials last year. I saw a lot of hunger and inspiration in his eyes. I knew he was going to go back to drawing board this year, and he came out running, indoors to outdoors. I’ll be the first to say I think my collegiate record in the 200 is threatened. Especially at Mt. SAC, it seemed effortless [for Spearmon]. I’m excited. He’s going to come out blazing.
Q: We seem to have seen an emergence of young guys from the 100 to 400. Is there any reason for that?
A: I know exactly why. In my own opinion, as I was growing up, I had the opportunity to watch Michael Johnson, Maurice Green, Marion Jones - people who were much older than me who I could look up to and try to emulate. They were adults. This day and age, I’m the oldest at 23. I’m trying to achieve my own goals and set my own standards. You have guys like Wallace, Tyson Gay, LaShawn Merritt… they see people like me and say he’s young, I can do it too. It’s making track and field more exciting right now. With young people it can be up and down. The best thing to do with young athletes is be patient, because they can be exciting to watch.
Q: How close were you to a perfect race in Athens?
A: My own opinion, I’d say I’m 20 meters short of a perfect race. Watching the tape over and over again, my form started breaking down about 20 meters from the finish.
I’ve never been known to be a great starter. The paper shows, I had the slowest reaction time at the Olympic Games in the finals, and I still came out on top. My start can be better and of course my finish. The strongest part is my middle and that’s what I want to build off of.
Q: Are you as hungry now as before?
A: It’s getting back there. Honestly, after the Olympics, I was very content with what I had done. I had accomplished my life dream since I was 8 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. I have to be thinking about running fast times and getting a world record.
Q: You and Shawn Crawford seem to be friends, with very different personalities. Is that good that you fill in blanks for each other?
A: As you say, we are polar opposites. He would give a different quote than I would give. But we go hand-in-hand. He’d be more of the unpredictable, excitement, what is he going to do next kind of guy. We help each other out. I wouldn’t want somebody out there who is just like me. It would be kind of boring.
Q: You mentioned world record. Do you think you can break it, and how far away are you from it?
A: Basically, I think with my confidence in myself, I’m as close as I can get to it right now. At the end of the season, I want to be running consistent 9.8s or 9.9s. I want to be in a situation where that one good race will break it or equal it. I’m pretty close - I have confidence in myself.
Q: Has the media made life more difficult for you?
A: I think I’m one of the rare athletes who can accept that. I know once I’m on TV, I’m a role model. I know kids are watching me. Even coming from college to professional, even doing that I had teammates looking up to me. That’s part of my job. When I’m asked questions at awkward times, I have to bear with it and go with it. People are looking up to me, and it’s part of my job.
Q: Why do you understand your role better than older athletes in other sports seem to?
A: I’ve seen a lot of athletes push cameras out of their face, say repeatedly ‘no comment.’ With a great reporter, somebody who respects you and wants to get their job done, a question or two only takes 10 seconds. It helps you out and it helps me out. It helps you do your job, and it helps get my name out.
Q: Do you want to go into TV?
A: I do. I’m in the last episode of “The Apprentice” - me, Allyson Felix, Maurice Greene and Lauryn Williams are on the last episode, running a race at Chelsea Piers. Those are good steps in the right direction for me. I can pick up where I leave track and field and commentate or go into acting. It was exciting from my point of view, being an athlete and part of the show.
Q: Is the fact that you were hurt in 2003 and not able to make team for motivation for you now?
A: There is no pressure whatsoever. You just have to roll with the punches. I was glad to have the opportunity to go to worlds in 2003, see what was going on, and stay at the village.
Q: We used to be accustomed to young gold medalists, then people like Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Maurice Greene started having these long careers. Do you see yourself competing through 2012?
A: I hope so, especially if it’s in New York. Then I can graciously bow out in New York, where I was born, and that would be icing on the cake for my career. Not saying that Maurice or Michael’s career was a walk in the park for them, but by the margins they were winning, 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 I’ll be able to stay afloat.
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