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Monday, June 4, 2012

Justin Gatlin "Ready For War"

JUSTIN Gatlin does not care that Usain Bolt laughs at the challenge he is mounting for 100 metres supremacy this summer - nor that the blue riband event of the London Olympics could be tainted by the spectre of drugs.

Gatlin, who failed a drugs test two years after winning the 100m gold in Athens, announced himself as a serious contender for the Games with a 9.87sec victory over former world record holder Asafa Powell in Doha last month.

The American's performance has only been bettered this year by Bolt, who was back to his majestic best with a blistering 9.76 dash in Rome last week, and Yohan Blake, who ran 9.84 in the Cayman Islands. But Gatlin is not intimidated. "I don't go out six days a week, train for five hours a day to get silver and bronze," said Gatlin from his training camp in Florida last week.

"I already have an Olympic gold medal under my belt and I'm going out there to win another one."

His post-race comments in Doha - that he would take charge of a challenge to the 'Bolt show' - were dismissed with relish by the Jamaican, who said that Gatlin had "had his chance".

"I didn't know there was a professional chance counter in our sport," said Gatlin, 30.

"The last time I checked, if you're ready and willing to go out there and run fast and compete, you can grab a lane."

The danger that a drugs cheat could infiltrate the medals in the most visible event of London 2012 will not have escaped Lord Coe, who advocated lifetime bans for such offenders and has promised a zero-tolerance policy on drugs at London 2012.

Gatlin failed a routine doping test at a low-key event in Kansas in 2006. He maintains he was framed by massage therapist Christopher Whetstine.

It is a story that was supported by Gatlin's then coach, Trevor Graham, a man with a past murkier than ditchwater - Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery were just two of a long list of convicted cheats Graham coached. Whetstine denies the accusations.

Renaldo Nehemiah, a former 110m hurdles world record holder, managed Gatlin before his doping conviction, remained friends with him throughout his four-year ban and resumed charge of his business affairs after he was reinstated by the IAAF in 2010.

He claims the attention deficit disorder Gatlin suffered from, and received medication for from the age of eight, made him vulnerable to being exploited by unscrupulous people.

"Justin's attention to things is his greatest weakness," said Nehemiah. "I sometimes give him his travel itinerary and within two hours he's asking me what time we're leaving. If he can do that, then he's going to overlook a lot of things.

"When I heard he'd tested positive, the first thing out of my mouth was "That darn Trevor. I can't believe he would let something like this happen to Justin".

"I knew from a business side that Justin was naive. I felt he could have been easily duped. Call it paranoia but, in our sport, lack of paranoia costs you your career.

"Whatever transpired to turn Gatlin from a respected champion into a disgraced doper, his brazen presence alone is certain to ruffle feathers in London.

"I've been to the top of the mountain and the bottom," said Gatlin. "What the other sprinters say about me in the media and think about me doesn't matter to me. I've been through things that they could never fathom. I'm ready for this war."

On paper, he should not be able to challenge Bolt, who has run a far superior 9.58sec. But Bolt's failure to break 10 seconds in Ostrava last week and his disqualification from the world championships in Daegu last year proved he is not infallible.

"I look at myself as more of a gunslinger now than I was in 2004," Gatlin said.

"I'm ready to take on the competition.

"Justin then was a young man coming into the world of track and field fearless and really naive to the sport.

"I'm a different Justin now. I'm more calculated, cold, I understand the sport a little better and I'm viewed more as a dark horse.

"You can't think about times. If you go out there and run 9.6 you may as well go out there and run 9.5. If you run 9.5 somebody might go out there and run 9.4. You have to go out there and dominate the race and look at the clock when it's done."

Gatlin is pleased that the BOA's lifetime ban on drugs cheats was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in March, giving rise to the possibility that he might compete against fellow convicted doper, Britain's Dwain Chambers, in London.

"I've been through the same situation as Dwain," he said. "I know what it feels like to sit out for four years and not collect a cheque from the sport that you love.

"I understand he has a son and I have a son to take care of. To take that away from him after he has served his time is injustice in itself and I'm glad to see that he's back."

And how would Gatlin like to be remembered?

"As one of the strongest athletes mentally and physically in the sport of track and field," he said. "And a brave person."