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Justin Gatlin Looking to Outrun Competition and Suspicions

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Justin Gatlin Looking to Outrun Competition and Suspicions Y-TRACK-articleLarge
Justin Gatlin last summer before his first competitive race after serving a four-year doping ban.

Gatlin Looking to Outrun Competition and Suspicions

New York Times
April 30, 2011

Few in the crowd of 48,531 seemed to recognize Justin Gatlin on Saturday as he stepped onto the track at the Penn Relays. He wore golden spikes, but there was no announcement that he had been the Olympic champion at 100 meters in 2004. No mention that this was his first major meet since he returned from a four-year ban for doping.

“I almost felt like I was coming to tears, thankful to come back and compete with my peers and to be welcomed by the crowd,” Gatlin, 29, said, perhaps sensing more of an embrace than actually occurred or perhaps just relieved not to hear any boos.

He seemed a bit heavy, and heavy-legged, while running a rare leadoff leg in the 4x100-meter relay in the USA vs. the World competition. Gatlin’s team struggled with baton exchanges and finished third to a Jamaican squad that included Asafa Powell, a former world record holder in the 100.

Even now, five years after testing positive for a banned substance, Gatlin seems in denial about the incident that disgraced his career. He continues to maintain that he never knowingly doped, that his former massage therapist sabotaged him by rubbing a testosterone-like cream onto his legs in 2006.

It is a variation of Barry Bonds’s flaxseed oil defense, and just as unlikely to be true. The masseur denied any subterfuge. And given that Gatlin’s coach, Trevor Graham, and seven other athletes in their former training group, including Marion Jones, were barred from the sport in the Balco scandal, it seems highly improbable that Gatlin was an innocent wronged.

Still, he persists in saying so. “I’ve always stuck by my story,” Gatlin said. “I’m just going to tell the truth. That’s the way I was raised. If I did it, I would have said it.”

People are forgiving. Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi issued apologies about doping in baseball, and their transgressions were quickly absolved. Even without such an admission, Gatlin has been welcomed back into the track world, with the exception of some meet promoters who have ignored him. He has served his penalty, and it is hard to argue that he does not deserve a chance to run again.

“He has done his time,” Powell said. “I have nothing bad to say.”

In most cases of a banned American sprinter returning to the sport, “We would essentially ignore them and pretend they didn’t exist,” said Jill Geer, a spokeswoman for USA Track and Field.

But Gatlin cooperated with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and has spoken to children about taking responsibility for their actions. While he has not admitted to purposely taking a banned substance, Geer said, he has “taken responsibility for the fact that it was in his system.”

There are serious questions to be asked about doping, about whether athletes are unfairly persecuted, and prosecuted, when there is so much drug use in the larger society, therapeutic and otherwise. Fans demand that athletes run fast and set records, and are shocked when they use any means necessary.

Still, it would be useful for Gatlin to come clean, not for moral reasons, but just to set the record straight.

“It’s a very humbling experience to have to present yourself in front of all these people who are so critical and skeptical of what it is you’re going to do,” said Lauryn Williams, the American sprinter who won silver in the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games.

In his comeback, Gatlin is seeking to make the United States team in the 100 and 200 meters and the 4x100-meter relay at the world track and field championships in late August in South Korea and at the 2012 London Olympics. Doping bans have destroyed many elite sprinting careers, from Ben Johnson to Marion Jones. And since Gatlin was barred, the sprinting world has been turned upside down by Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who has lowered the world record in the 100 to 9.58 and the 200 to 19.19.

Gatlin ran 9.77 and 19.86 before being barred, but no faster than 10.09 and 20.36 since returning to the track last summer. Even his best races were far slower than those of the fastest current American, Tyson Gay, who has posted times of 9.69 and 19.58. Still, Gatlin needs to finish only third at the United States championships to qualify for the worlds and the Olympics.

And he has the recovered career of Britain’s top sprinter, Dwain Chambers, to convince himself that a post-doping comeback is possible, although Chambers remains barred from the Olympics by UK Athletics.

“I feel like he has plenty of time and plenty of youth to come out and prove that hey, track world, this is what you’ve been missing,” said Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic champion at the 200 meters and a relay partner of Gatlin’s on Saturday.

Still, even if he outruns the competition, Gatlin might find it impossible to escape suspicion.

“If he runs as fast as he did before, people will think he must be doping now,” Geer said. “If he doesn’t run as fast as he did in the past, people will say that was evidence that he really was doping and cheating. He realizes it’s a tough spot.”



Someone with an opinion on Justin Gatlin.

Justin Gatlin undeserving of USA jersey at Penn Relays
By Kevin Liao
May 1st 2011

At what point should punishment end? That is the big question in the case of track and field athletes returning from drug suspensions. Top European competitions such as the Diamond League contests have barred former drug cheats such as Dwain Chambers from taking part in their meets. Some argue that these athletes have already served their fair share of punishment and should be allowed to compete once they are eligible to do so.

Justin Gatlin’s case is very similar. Gatlin tested positive for high levels of testosterone in 2006 and made his return to competition on U.S. soil on Saturday at the Penn Relays after four years of suspension. Not only did Gatlin participate in the Penn Relays, he was invited by organizers to don the blue singlet of the United States run in the USA vs. the World portion of the meet.

Ordinarily, I would not have an issue with a domestic competition welcoming Gatlin to run. Athletes that have served their suspension should have a fair shot at racing against their peers. However, voluntarily choosing a man who has disgraced the sport to wear the coveted stars and stripes is complete unnecessary.

It would not be an issue if Gatlin qualified for the World Championships or Olympics and thus would have earned the right to represent America. This is clearly not the case. Penn officials and meet sponsor Nike decided that the cheap PR opportunity of Gatlin’s comeback story would be a compelling tale to tell but instead reflects badly on the sport by setting up the appearance that an athlete’s past transgressions are meaningless.

Those selecting future USA vs. the World teams should use more discretion when making their picks. The right to represent America and wear the USA uniform is a sacred one that should not be handed out so haphazardly. Gatlin is 29 years old and appears to be a long way from again contending against the world’s best. There are many younger, equally-skilled sprinters with cleaner reputations who would have eagerly accepted the chance to run on Team USA and would benefit a great deal more from the experience than Gatlin did.

I would not have a problem if Gatlin earned his right by beating the country’s best and making the World or Olympic team. Placing him on such a prestigious squad just for his past notoriety is shameful to all others who truly deserved their spots on the team.

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