Back To The Future: The Life And Times Of Justin Gatlin

(Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)

No need for a DeLorean or Dr. Emmet Brown, and we aren’t talking about Marty McFly.

However track and field does have Justin Gatlin, the newly minted U.S. Olympic Trials 100 meter champion whose comeback has the 30-year-old looking like he went back to 2005 when he was the reigning Olympic gold medalist and world champion. Since that glorious streak Gatlin has been under the weight of a crushing four year doping ban which denied him defense of his titles and the expunging of a share of the 100 meter world record with Jamaican Asafa Powell.

What could have been the end of a once heralded American athlete though was not to be.

The reason for the ban stemmed from a positive test in July 2006 of alleged testosterone use which was upheld by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The circumstances of the situation remain murky as Gatlin to this day solemnly protests that he never knowingly used any performance enhancers and that disaffected therapist Christopher Whetsine had used a cream with testosterone on Gatlin unbeknownst to the athlete. Due to the cooperation of Gatlin with USADA his possible life ban was struck to four years in which the sprinter attempted to clear his name and took a failed shot at the NFL that went nowhere.

Disappearing nearly completely from the minds of the track community as another case of a cheating competitor in an era attempting to come clean and due to the rise of such stars as Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake, Gatlin looked finished. Then the ban was over and out of the blocks he came.

Returning at low key meets in Europe in the summer of 2010, Gatlin attempted to recapture the dignity and performances that he had gained previously before his ban. The comeback, however, was a slow go with middling times against average competitors such as his return race in which he ran 10.2 and ended the summer with a 10.09. Not bad for four years off but well out of range of the new top flight times being ran by the new Jamaican starts of sprinting who were consistent sub-ten second performers.

What could the world expect from a “tainted” athlete who was out of the game for an entire Olympic cycle? What could he possibly hope to accomplish as he was on the other side of a sprinters prime and in a period when sprint times had rapidly dropped to unimaginable levels?

Keep moving and don’t stop would be the answer.

In 2011 Gatlin exploded at the U.S. Championships in Eugene under the disdainful eye of many track followers to become a World Championship qualifier and represent the U.S. by taking second and going under ten seconds in the 100. Staving off the question marks and detractors, Gatlin humbly and excitedly had shown that he was no laughing stock and wanted prove that he had won gold in Athens legitimately. Despite an early exit in Daegu, the former champion had put the world on notice he wanted his titles back, no matter who might hold them.

To bolster this quest, this past weekend at the 2012 Olympic Trials Gatlin looked as if he was the time machine racing down the track to win the 100 meters commandingly against a respectable field of entrants. His time of 9.80 seconds made the 30-year-old the oldest Trials champion ever and silenced some who may have doubted his claims of innocence.

Though those doubts may never be fully washed away, he has done a magnificent job of drowning out the detractors and naysayers with is times on the track and his cool, confident demeanor. Out of the age of so many doping scandals and admittances of guilt, we may have proof of a man who was the victim of an unfortunate situation and was competing clean until being doped unwillingly, we may never know. Though with every race this athlete proves that despite age and accusations, he belongs competing against the wolrd’s fastest and may have told the truth about his ban.

Now with London a month away, can Justin Gatlin ride his time machine back to where he thinks he belongs -on the podium?

Topics: Eugene 2012

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