World Championship: Sighs of relief as Justin Gatlin stays the great pretender
the Luzhniki Stadium
Sunday 11 August 2013
Two years ago in Daegu, the last time the World Championship men's 100m final was contested, it was all about the false start. This time, it was more like the false art.
As Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and co prepared to take to their starting blocks here in the Luzhniki Stadium, the heavens opened and the thunder clapped above. Well, there has been a cloud hanging over track and field for the past four weeks, following the positive tests that removed Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell from the equation of the blue-riband event.
The prospect of it bursting in Wagnerian fashion was always a danger. It was just as well that Bolt performed his Marcel Marceau routine to the television camera as he stood on the start line, miming the putting-up of an umbrella. With the credibility of top-level track and field on the line, the sport could ill-afford the nightmare scenario of the Lightning Bolt being struck down not by himself with the jumping of the starter's gun, as he was in South Korea in 2011, but by the menacing shadow of Gatlin, the two-time fraudster of the sprint world.
The native New Yorker has maintained what might be described as an Egyptian approach to his past misdemeanours, in so much as being up to his neck in denial. "I have never knowingly used any banned substances," Gatlin staunchly maintains.
The 31-year-old has, however, tested positive for banned substances not just once but twice.
Back in 2001 he tested positive for amphetamines at the US Junior Championships. He was given a two-year suspension but the International Association of Athletics Federations agreed to an early reinstatement, accepting that the drug had come from medication he had taken as a sufferer from attention deficit disorder.
Gatlin proceeded to win the Olympic 100m in Athens in 2004 and the 100m and 200m at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki but tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006.
Again, he protested his innocence, claiming he was the victim of sabotage – that his massage therapist had deliberately rubbed testosterone cream on to his buttocks without his knowledge.
He was given an eight-year suspension that was cut to four. And thus the two-time doper has been back on the scene since 2011, threatening to gun down the 6ft 5in ray of Jamaican sunshine who has done so much to restore public faith in the long-tainted sprint game.
At the Golden Gala meeting in Rome in early June, Gatlin managed to get the better of a decidedly rusty Bolt. Tonight, it was different. Gatlin got the better start, but Bolt had too much in the locker, surging past some 40 metres from the line to win by 0.08sec in 9.77sec, the American taking the silver. And so track and field breathed a mighty sigh of relief.
It is not just the two failed tests that leave a sour taste in the mouth at the sight of Gatlin still being free to run and finish among the major medals. He is coached by Dennis Mitchell, who tested positive for excessive testosterone during his sprinting career in 1998 and blamed it on having had sex with his wife the night before, crassly quipping: "It was the lady's birthday. She deserved a treat."
At the Balco drugs trial, Mitchell also testified that he had been injected with human growth hormone by Trevor Graham, the coach of two other high speed drugs cheats, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery. Graham was Gatlin's coach when he suffered his second drugs bust in 2006.
And yet, in Gatlin's world, it is as if there is no dirty baggage being carried. Reflecting on his son's past, his father Willie Gatlin told the Jamaica Gleaner out here: "He knew he didn't do anything. He was set up, so to speak."
Gatlin himself responded to news of the Trinidadian sprinter Kelly-Ann Baptiste's positive test with the message: "My heart goes out to her family. I know what it is to have a situation like that."
Sadly, so does his sport. We can only be grateful that there are still some around who can show the world that perfecting the sprint game is not necessarily a false art.
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