U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin looks on before competing in the 100 metres race
during the Palio della Quercia Games in Rovereto in this August 31, 2010 file photo.
Credit: Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo/Files
INTERVIEW - Gatlin gets comeback chance in Oregon
By Gene Cherry
Thu Jun 2, 2011
EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Disgraced 2004 Olympic 100 metres champion Justin Gatlin's comeback bid gained new life on Wednesday when he was invited to compete in Saturday's Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting.
The 2005 world champion, still hoping to prove he can compete with the best after a four-year doping ban, will face 2008 Olympic silver medallist Richard Thompson of Trinidad and speedy Jamaicans Nesta Carter and Michael Frater, officials said.
"It is going to be competitive and it is going to be fast," the 29-year-old told Reuters of his first major race since 2006 when he tested positive for too high a level of the male sex hormone testosterone.
"I feel honoured just to be able to come and run at a prestigious meet like this at the USA mecca of track and field."
Gatlin said his aim was to break the 10-second barrier.
His personal best is 9.85 at the Athens Olympics with a world-record tying 9.77 nullified in 2006 because of the doping ban. That still is almost two-tenths of a second off Jamaican Usain Bolt's 2009 world record of 9.58 seconds.
"This is a totally different planet for me," Gatlin said of Saturday's race. "In 2006 when I was (last) competing, there was no Diamond League," he said of the global circuit.
His doping suspension ended last July but until now Gatlin has competed in only low-key meetings.
Organisers of Diamond League and other key European meetings have shunned him as part of an agreement in principle not to include athletes who have served major doping bans.
But Prefontaine Classic meeting director Tom Jordan decided this year to invite Gatlin, a former Prefontaine 100 metres winner.
"Justin is eligible according to IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) and USATF (U.S.A. Track and Field) rules and he served his ban for doping," Jordan told Reuters.
"We have a philosophy in this country that if you have paid your debt to society, then you are given a second chance and he will have a second chance at the Prefontaine Classic."
Jordan would not speculate whether the opportunity would open the door for Gatlin to run elsewhere.
Gatlin said he hoped it would.
"I just want to run, to put on a good show for people," he said.
He will be back on the same University of Oregon track in less than three weeks in an unlikely bid to make the American team for the world championships in August.
"I think my chances are pretty good," said Gatlin, whose 100 metres best this season (10.06 seconds) ranks seventh best among Americans.
He would need to finish in the top three at the national championships to make the U.S. team with a lower finish opening the possibility of a relay position.
"This all has been like a rebirth for me," Gatlin said.
"A journey that hopefully takes me down a path of being a champion again."