Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin have been the faces of Olympic sprinting for more than a decade.
Gatlin was the 2004 Olympic 100m champion. Then Bolt won a combined six sprinting gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Games.
“When you think about track and field, you think about Gatlin and Bolt,” Gatlin said. “We are showmen. We are true competitors.”
Gatlin compared the anticipation for a race against Bolt to that of a basketball game featuring Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, or a soccer match with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“On any given day,” Gatlin said, “it can be their day or it can be an upset day.”
While attending USA Track & Field’s Black Tie & Sneakers Gala, Gatlin revealed three facts you might not know about his rivalry with Bolt:
They tease each other
The 100m sprint is typically a young person’s event, but not at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Bolt and Gatlin will take center stage.
Bolt’s favorite nickname for the 34-year-old Gatlin is “old man.”
Gatlin responds by calling Bolt, who will turn 30 on August 21, “middle-aged man.”
Bolt also enjoys pointing out Gatlin’s gray hairs.
“Everyone always has something to say about my gray hairs,” Gatlin said. “But I say it’s not gray—it’s my wisdom.”
Since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the average 100m gold medalist has been 23 years old. Bolt would be the oldest Olympic 100m champion since Great Britain’s Linford Christie in 1992. Gatlin would be the oldest man to ever win an Olympic 100m gold medal.
They party together
Bolt is a regular at Oktoberfest. He has been known to step into the DJ booth at night clubs. Pictures have surfaced of him partying with rapper Lil Wayne in South Florida.
He has even gone out with Gatlin a couple of times.
“Bolt has a good time,” Gatlin said, laughing.
Gatlin enjoys partying with his biggest rival.
“We are able to relax and have fun outside of track and field,” Gatlin said. “But when we step on the track, we want to beat each other.”
Even their mothers spend time together. Bolt’s mother, Jennifer, met Gatlin’s mother, Jeanette, at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, and they have been friends ever since.
“We’ve spoken a lot,” Jennifer said. “We are very close.”
They make each other faster
When Bolt burst onto the scene at the 2008 Olympics, setting three world records, he raised the bar for all sprinters.
Gatlin, who was serving a four-year doping ban during the 2008 Games, could only watch on television as Bolt became the first man to cover 100m in less than 9.7 seconds. Gatlin’s winning time at the 2004 Games, 9.85 seconds, would have placed him a distant second in 2008.
“He gave me a vision of where I needed to be,” Gatlin said.
Then, with Bolt slowed by injuries, Gatlin set the standard in 2014 and 2015. Gatlin ran six of the year’s seven fastest 100m times in both years. But Bolt peaked on the biggest stage, claiming the 100m gold medal at 2015 Worlds.
“He proved that when he’s down, he can come back up, and when he’s up, he’s up the highest,” Gatlin said. “That’s the kind of guy you want to set your sights on and go after.”
2000 Olympic 100m champion Maurice Greene has watched Bolt and Gatlin push each other.
“If there’s not anyone there to challenge you, then everything is going to get stagnant,” Greene said. “It’s not going to get there.”