Monday, December 24, 2012

Justin Gatlin : ‘I want to beat Usain Bolt'

By Matt Majendie The stuff of legend is what Usain Bolt aspired towards in London earlier this year, a feat achieved with the successful defence of his three Olympic titles in the capital. For Bolt, the dominance of the victories was all the sweeter with critics suggesting his Beijing pace was a thing of the past. Justin Gatlin was among those to suggest the Jamaican’s time had passed and that the fastest man on the planet was beatable. In the end, neither Gatlin nor any other pursuer got close. The legendary status now enjoyed by Bolt is something Gatlin is well aware he can never achieve whether he crosses the line in front of his rival or not next season. The American’s legacy is a very different one as he plots his 2013 ambitions from his training base in Florida. Next to his name are two very black marks. In 2001 traces of amphetamine were found in his system and in 2006 he tested positive for testosterone. Both resulted in bans of varying severity and left his reputation besmirched for the rest of his career. Throughout it all, he has denied any wrongdoing. The first failed test was blamed on medication taken for attention deficiency disorder, the latter on a masseur who, out to get Gatlin, rubbed a cream containing an illegal substance into the athlete’s body. It sounds more like the plot of a bad movie than any reality but Gatlin has steadfastly stuck to the story for the two years since his return to the sport. “I’ve never come across drugs and never been tempted to do so,” he says. “Every time in races I was first or second so there was no reason. I can see how people view me but the whole world does not know my story. That may never happen. But I don’t dwell on the negatives or positives in life.” Gatlin has a sincerity when he puts his case across to at least make you think there might be some truth in what he says. But then again, Lance Armstrong said the same thing. Armstrong comes up in conversation and Gatlin has sympathy for him. “I’m thinking about what Lance Armstrong must be going through,” he says. “It’s devastating for him and I hope that everyone learns the whole story.” The full story of the former seven-time Tour de France winner is out there but Gatlin appears blinkered to it, as he does to how he is viewed on his return to athletics. In London, he was booed as he received his bronze medal for finishing behind Bolt and Yohan Blake in the 100m. His recollection of events, however, were a little different. “I think I got a lot of respect after everything I’ve been through,” he says. Looking back at how the events ­transpired, he says: “I’d like to turn it back. It was a bit like a car wreck and, even if you’re okay in the end, you don’t want to be in a car wreck. “I felt people used my story as a punching bag without doing their research. There was sensational stuff but I’m still here.” The comments are not as bullish as they come across. Gatlin is softly spoken, likeable in conversation. A big part of you wants to believe he has been the victim of a conspiracy but the head, for the most part, says otherwise. There are many who would rather not have Gatlin back in the sport. He toyed with not returning but the lure of the sport became too much to resist. “For me, running is an outer-body experience. It’s like this crazy rush of blood and you zap back into your body at the end of it,” he says. Winter training is hard but the thing that gets him out of bed each morning is the prospect of bettering Bolt and of being world champion in Moscow next year, eight years after his double titles in the 100m and 200m following on from his Olympic 100m gold the ­previous year. The odds might be stacked against him as he approaches his 31st birthday in February but he says: “I want to beat Bolt. He’s a stellar athlete but I think I can step up to the plate. “He’s the incentive to train even more for this season, him and the year I had last year when I only got beat one or two times. I’ve got world champion blood in me. It’s not about times but about running to the line, being the first across it.” Gatlin’s 2012 season fizzled out with a bout of food poisoning. He took five weeks off to spend time with his family and work on his golf game. The drive is to cancel out the Lightning Bolt among others. “I’ve got the Gatlin guns to throw at the Lightning Bolt and the Beast [Yohan Blake], and Tyson Gay pointing to God,” he says. The quartet in question make a mouth-watering prospect for athletics next year with a double Jamaican-American duel over the course of the season. Gatlin knows he might not be to everyone’s taste but he is going nowhere. “I want to compete until I can compete no more,” he says.