Gatlin's glory fails to lift cloud of doubt

It used to be at the heart of the Olympics, that thrilling surge of power which brought the crowning of the 100 metres champion. But here on Sunday they were 9.85 seconds that left your head and your heart as quickly as they had entered.

It used to be at the heart of the Olympics, that thrilling surge of power which brought the crowning of the 100 metres champion. But here on Sunday they were 9.85 seconds that left your head and your heart as quickly as they had entered.

The glory of Jesse Owens running Nazi master-race theories into the ground in Berlin might have happened on another planet. In fact, it did. It was a place that existed before Ben Johnson carried us all to the stars and then dumped us in the dirt in Seoul 16 years ago.

Rightly or wrongly, Justin Gatlin, a 22-year-old New Yorker, is the heir of Johnson not Owens, of course, and if he is the victim of our cynicism he will just have to understand we are damaged too. He may claim, as defending champion and third-placed Maurice Greene did recently, that suspicion of drug abuse is a brush too freely used, but what are free-thinking adults expected to do?

Forget that Greene left at home in America training partners who tested positive? Or that Trevor Graham, Gatlin's coach, used to be in charge of the careers of Marion Jones, the former superwoman who competes here in the long jump under a mound of circumstantially damning evidence, and her boyfriend and father of her children, Tim Montgomery, the world record holder, who is another absentee following being charged with doping violations?

After Gatlin's victory, Graham announced proudly that he was the whistle-blower who sent to American investigators the syringe which blew open the Balco lab scandal that is dragging track and field into ever deepening disrepute. But then it is also true that leaked evidence from the Balco probe has also incriminated Graham.

These were some of the distracting realities in the wake of Gatlin's charge to gold. Another was that the Russian woman shot putter who won gold last week had tested positive - for the second time in her career.

Everyone is innocent until proven otherwise. It is an unalienable right. But then so is scepticism and doubt and a sickening inability to believe what you see.

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