WSMV Channel 4

Justin Gatlin: The ageless sprinter

Posted: Updated:

Justin Gatlin’s training partners tease him about his grey hairs. His biggest rival, Usain Bolt, jokingly calls him “old man.” Critics wonder why, 12 years after winning the 2004 Olympic gold medal, he is running faster than ever at 34.


Gatlin simply laughs.


He proudly describes his grey hairs as his "source of wisdom." He refers to Bolt, who will turn 30 on the day of the Closing Ceremony, as "middle-aged man." And to his critics?


“You defeat them with success,” Gatlin said. “That’s how you retaliate.”


NBCOlympics.com spent an afternoon with Gatlin on sweltering day in late July, riding an air-conditioned luxury tour bus with the sprinter and his entourage as they made several pre-Olympic appearances in New York City.


Gatlin made it clear that he is not slowing down.


“The Justin now is superior to the Justin at this point in 2012,” Gatlin, the 2012 Olympic 100m bronze medalist, said after being honored on the steps of New York City Hall by Council Member Andy King. “I am a better athlete to be honest across the board.”



The numbers support his claim. 


He became the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic team in a sprint event since 1912 when he won the 100m title at the U.S. Olympic Trials on July 3. He ran a world-leading 9.80 seconds, matching his time from the 2012 Trials. He also won the 200m final in 19.75 seconds, after not entering the event at 2012 Trials.



He celebrated his 100m title by taking a victory lap with his beaming 6-year-old son Jace.


“I thought having a child while you are in the height of your career would soften you up,” Gatlin said. “But that’s the furthest from the truth. My son gives me strength.”



Gatlin, who did not compete at 2008 Trials while serving a doping ban, also recorded faster times at 2016 Trials than he did at 2004 Trials, when he clocked 9.92 seconds in the 100m and 20.01 seconds in the 200m. He went on to win the 100m gold medal and the 200m bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics. 


“The Justin Gatlin of 2004 was out there having fun and running as fast as he could,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to take it back to. I don’t know how fast I’m going to go. I’m not trying to predict the time. I’m just trying to go out there and run.”


Gatlin’s fun-loving attitude is one of the few characteristics from 2004 that he is trying to revive. 


Back then, he gave little thought to his diet, with a fast metabolism and a grueling training regimen. Now he has almost entirely banished fried foods from his diet, along with red meats and refined sugars. While touring New York, Gatlin snacked throughout the day on a fruit salad that he stored in the refrigerator of the luxury tour bus. 


Gatlin has also learned to slow down. When he started his professional career, he rushed through his warmup and overlooked technical work. He now spends hours perfecting his form and studying film of his favorite sprinters, including Maurice Greene and Carl Lewis. 


“I am a student of the game,” Gatlin said. “Now I am actually teaching other athletes how to become better runners.”



Gatlin admits that the most difficult part of sprinting at 34 is that it takes him longer to recover from injuries.


During Trials, he ran with elastic bandages around his strained left quadriceps, an injury that developed as a result of his muscles being overworked after rolling his ankle earlier in the season. 


The injury did not seem to slow him in the 100m. But while advancing through the first two rounds of the 200m, he finished second in both heats. The opening round was the first time he lost a race since 2015, and the first time he finished behind a sprinter besides Usain Bolt since 2013. After every race at Trials, he underwent an ultrasound and a deep-tissue massage. 


He disappeared into a portable toilet just moments before the 200m final. Not wanting his opponents to see him showing any sign of weakness, Gatlin decided to remove the elastic bandages in the privacy of the cramped toilet. He said a prayer aloud, knowing that he was taking a risk by running on an injured leg when he had already secured a spot on the Olympic team in the 100m.


“Anybody who was in the next Porta-Potty could have heard me," Gatlin said, "like I was in a confessional box."


He rolled the bandages into a ball and handed them to his coach, Dennis Mitchell. He then ran the second-fastest 200m time of 2016, establishing himself as an Olympic medal favorite. 



Gatlin seems poised for another showdown with Bolt at the 2016 Olympics. Gatlin is the only sprinter who has edged Bolt in a 100m race since the 2012 Olympics, but Gatlin has never defeated his Jamaican rival in an Olympic or Worlds 100m final.



They have partied together at night clubs, are friendly off the track. Even their mothers have spent time together.


But the two sprinters have not spoken since the 2015 World Championships, when Gatlin finished second to Bolt in both the 100m and 200m. 


Gatlin does not go out of his way to watch Bolt’s races live on television.


“I’ll hear about it eventually,” he said. 


Gatlin was asked whether Bolt is more likely to lose in the 100m or 200m if he were to lose in an individual Olympic final for the first time.


“If I had to pick one, I believe it would be the 100m,” Gatlin said. “He doesn’t have the best start in the world. His transition has been a little shaky lately. But you never know. He’s not the type of guy you ever want to count out.”



Gatlin was then asked which sprinter, besides himself, has the best shot at defeating Bolt.


“Maybe [21-year-old U.S. sprinter] Trayvon [Bromell],” Gatlin said. “He’s got that ‘it factor.’ He’s a fighter who rises to the occasion.”



Gatlin is also focused on earning his first Olympic 4x100m gold medal. During the premiere of his BET.com original docu-series “The Fast Life of: Justin Gatlin,” fans asked multiple questions about the recent struggles of the U.S. in the event. The U.S. men have not won an Olympic men’s 4x100m gold medal since 2000.


“There is a lot of pride in the relay,” Gatlin said. “Fans have been frustrated the last couple of years. They want to think that the relay is going to be better this year, and I believe it will be.”


He cited the 2015 World Relays, when he teamed with Mike Rodgers, Tyson Gay and Ryan Bailey to take down Bolt and the Jamaicans.


Bromell and 22-year-old Marvin Bracy are expected to run the 4x100m with Gatlin and Rodgers in Rio. Gatlin described the young sprinters as “hungry,” but also acknowledged that having new faces makes developing chemistry difficult. 


“The pool is so deep that you want to be fair and give everybody a chance, but at the same time, you want build a synergy and a bond with four athletes in a short amount of time,” he said. “It’s a problem within a problem sometimes.” 



Gatlin, who is trying to become the oldest Olympic medalist ever in the 100m and 200m, is well aware that achieving success in Rio would frustrate his critics. 


Sebastian Coe, president of track and field’s governing international governing body, the IAAF, seemed to take a shot at Gatlin leading into the 2015 World Championships, saying that he was “queasy at the thought of athletes that have served bans for serious infringement going on to win championship titles.”


Gatlin has made it his mission to win every race that Coe attends, forcing Coe to have to look him in the eye and shake his hand. He said that he has never spoken with Coe, and wishes that Coe would initiate a conversation. 


“He can have an opinion about me or anyone else in my situation,” Gatlin said, “but he doesn’t know me.”


Gatlin declined to declare that 2016 would be his final Games, but he also would not commit to continuing to run through 2020. 


“There may never even be another four years,” Gatlin said. “It’s now or never.”



Powered by Frankly
WSMV
Powered by WorldNow CNN
All content © 2017, WSMV; Nashville, TN. (A Meredith Corporation Station) . All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.