Athletics: Gatlin's best yet to come

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The Independent Online

It was the fastest run in history, but to Justin Gatlin his world record 9.76sec 100m performance in Doha on Friday night was "not one of my best races that I can put down in my book". Hardly had the young American scorched his name into the record books than he was looking to burn it with a brighter flame.

"If everything had gone right, I feel I could have done 9.73," Gatlin reflected the morning after his confirmation as the world's undisputed fastest man, with the world record to go alongside his Olympic and World Championship 100m titles. "I'm trying to go faster than 9.76. I'm trying to go to 9.74 or 9.73. The race wasn't one of my best that I can put down in my book, but if I can stay focused, and not get big headed, and not be content with what I just ran, then I can go out there and do it again.

"I know I was talking a lot about breaking the record but I didn't think it would come in my second race of the season. I can't believe it came so soon. It feels weird to have already achieved my season's target. But now I can say I'm the fastest man in the world and it feels great."

It doubtless feels better than being told you have failed a drugs test, which happened to Gatlin after the US Junior Championships in 2001. Aged 19 at the time, he tested positive for amphetamine and was given a two-year ban but was reinstated after a year when the International Association of Athletics Federations accepted medical advice that the banned stimulant had been contained in medication that the boy from Brooklyn had been taking since childhood to ease symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Gatlin changed his medication and has since had a trouble-free ride to the pinnacle of his sport, although his coach, Trevor Graham, was a pivotal figure in the Balco scandal in 2003, when the steroid-pedalling activities of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative led to Tim Montgomery, one of his former athletes, being stripped of the 9.78sec 100m world record he set in Paris in 2002.

Graham was revealed as the "mystery coach" who launched the whole inquiry by sending a syringe containing the hitherto unknown and undetectable "designer" steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) to the US Anti-Doping Agency. In the investigation that followed, Graham was accused of supplying illegal performance-enhancing drugs to his training group, which also formerly included Marion Jones - claims that the Jamaican and his lawyer strenuously denied.

Gatlin, now 24, trains with Graham's stable of sprinters at Raleigh, North Carolina. He returns home to compete in the Prefontaine Classic at Eugene on 28 May and in the Reebok Grand Prix in New York on 2 June before facing his first test on the 2006 European circuit in the Norwich Union British Grand Prix at Gateshead on 11 June.

On Tyneside his opponents will include Asafa Powell, the Jamaican whose 9.77sec he has now removed from the world record book. Their head-to-head record stands at 6-3 in Gatlin's favour.