Justin Gatlin has
two jobs. One is to run fast, performing in the manner expected of the reigning
Olympic 100-meter champion by constantly testing the limits of human speed. The
other is to help rebuild the fragile credibility of professional track and
field by constantly suggesting-- BALCO taught us that you can't prove such
things--that he runs without the assistance of steroids. These are heavy and
often contrary endeavors. � Last Friday evening in Doha, Qatar, Gatlin broke
the world record in the 100 meters, running 9.76 seconds to shave .01 off the
mark set in Athens last June by Asafa Powell of Jamaica. It was a performance
that pushed Gatlin, 24, to the pinnacle of his sport; there is no title quite
like World's Fastest Human. It also increased the public relations load that
lies atop his muscular shoulders. � This role is nothing new to Gatlin. He won
his Olympic gold medal in August 2004, just as BALCO was entering the lexicon
of U.S. sports. "I came along in the middle of a scandal," says Gatlin.
His coach is Trevor Graham, who in 2003 sent a syringe containing a designer
steroid to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, triggering the BALCO investigation.
(According to Game of Shadows, Graham initially said he pulled the syringe out
of a trash can at a track meet, but he later told a grand jury he got it from
Marion Jones's former husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, an allegation Hunter
denied.) Graham has coached six athletes suspended for doping or steroid use,
including Tim Montgomery, who was banned in December and stripped of the
100-meter world record (9.78 seconds) that he held from '02 to '05.
"I see the
look on people's faces when I tell them my coach's name," Gatlin told SI
last month. "I see when they pause and then start to put it together. But I
understand what it would mean to track and field if I ever tested positive or
went down in some scandal. At this point that would be one of the hardest hits
the sport could take. Not to have an ego about it, but that might be the KO for
our sport. I know how important it is that I'm clean."
( Gatlin has never
tested positive for steroids. In 2001 he tested positive for an amphetamine
contained in medicine he had been taking since age seven for attention deficit
disorder. He received a two-year suspension, but it was lifted after 12
Gatlin bears his
role with a cheerful grace. He is engaging and patient with the media and
tireless with fans. USA Track and Field has placed him at the forefront of its
marketing campaigns, and his agent, former hurdler and NFL wideout Renaldo
Nehemiah, has harped on the importance of winning with class.
180-pound Gatlin also has a 125-pound watchdog. Allyson Felix, 20, the 2004
Olympic silver medalist and '05 world champion in the 200 meters, is among his
closest friends. (The two say they are not dating and, in fact, each is dating
someone else. But Gatlin also says, "Anybody I date knows I'm always going
to be very close to Allyson.") Felix monitors Gatlin's every public move.
"If he does something flamboyant or arrogant, he's going to hear about
it," says Felix, whose position in women's track and field is similar to
Gatlin's, a role she shares with 100-meter world champion Lauryn Williams.
Gatlin came into
the 2005 season with a reputation for winning big races but not for challenging
world records. His best time in the 100 was his Athens gold-medal-winning 9.85.
He won the 2005 world title in the 200, but his best time at that distance is
only 19.86; 14 men have run faster. Hence his goal for the year was simple:
"PR [personal record], PR, PR," he said in April.
To that end
Graham tweaked Gatlin's winter and spring training to build strength that would
enable him to carry his blistering top-end speed longer. Gatlin ran workouts
that included three 200-meter repeats in under 20 seconds. "I feel stronger
than I ever have," says Gatlin. Off the track he kept his Porsche and his
Escalade in the garage. "I cut out my social life," he says.
The work paid off
quickly. After several spring relays Gatlin opened his 100-meter season on May
6 in Osaka, Japan, with a 9.95 into a slight headwind. In Doha, Graham told
Nehemiah, "If he gets a little tailwind, he'll run in the 9.8s. If he gets
a good tailwind, who knows? He's so fit."
his personal best of 9.85 in his semifinal heat, and in the final he got a
tailwind of 1.7 meters per second, just under the maximum allowable of 2.0.
Second behind Gatlin was unheralded Olusoji Fasuba of Nigeria, who ran 9.84
seconds and shaved a mind-boggling .25 of a second off his previous best of
Fasuba's time led
to questions about the wind. "I had no doubt that Gatlin would run in the
9.7s this year," said four-time Olympic medalist Ato Boldon of Trinidad and
Tobago. "But Fasuba knocking so much off his best--that doesn't