onsdag 13 maj 2009

Gatlin ready to release beast inside!

U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin was once the top sprinter in the world. He was the 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist and the 2005 world champion in the 100m and 200m. He also tied Asafa Powell’s 9.77 100m world record on May 12, 2006.
Today, Gatlin is living in the Atlanta, Ga. area and works as a speed training specialist while he serves a four-year suspension from competition after testing positive for a testosterone or its precursors on April 22, 2006. He announced earlier this year that he plans to return to competition when his suspension ends July 25, 2010.
Universal Sports Senior Editor Dave Ungrady recently met with Gatlin and his coach Trevor Graham in exclusive and extended interviews and has compiled a series of stories about the runner’s fall from glory. Ungrady reviewed hundreds of pages of hearings transcripts, court documents and police reports and reviewed hours of secretly recorded phone calls. He also interviewed dozens of coaches, agents, athletes, marketing representatives and attorneys.
At the beginning of a dinner amid the cozy surroundings inside an Italian chain restaurant in suburban Atlanta, Ga. in February, in a move that did not surprise his mother, exiled American sprinter Justin Gatlin let down his defenses.
Minutes after Gatlin sat down to start talking about the last two and a half years of his life, a German woman in her early 20s approached as our waitress as we prepared for dinner. We greeted her with “Wie gehts”, which in German means ‘how are you?’ “Ah, gut,” she replied. An exotic, mixed-race beauty reflected her Somalian heritage and accented a pleasant smile. An emboldened Gatlin then commented, “Ich liebe dich,” which means ‘I love you’.
“Ah”, she said with grace and a smile and perplexed about how to further respond.
Gatlin smiled back, seemingly content with his retort. Jeannette Gatlin, Justin’s mother, reacted to the story with maternal bewilderment when told about it a few days later.
“That’s Justin,” she says of her son during a phone interview. “Justin has no defense mechanism. He takes people at face value. I told him in high school, ‘how many times does somebody have to steal your wallet out of the locker room to know that people steal? His answer was, ‘well, I wouldn’t do it. Why should anybody else?’ ”
In the minds of Gatlin and his mother, the sprinter’s lack of defenses helped contribute to his current quandary as a track and field drug offender hoping to revive what was once a utopian career.
During the dinner, Gatlin explained his congenial communication with the waitress. “I’m sociable, I’m approachable. If I meet you, I’m like, ‘hey man, let’s grab a drink’,” says Gatlin, flashing a shy smile. “But ever since all this happened to me, I’ve been kind of reluctant for a lot of reasons to be sociable to strangers. You can’t be cool with everybody. They have their intentions. Ever since [the positive test], I thought, ‘I don’t have a defense mechanism’. I tried so hard for everybody to love me and like me. Look where it got me.”
It’s placed Gatlin from the glorious days of track and field sprint dominance in a new town embarking on fresh and unexpected ventures. It has also created in Gatlin a vengeful drive to return to the sport once his suspension ends in July 2010.
“I always wanted to come back,” he says. “I feel like there’s a beast inside me waiting to come out. I’m ready to run, ready to upset the track world. I want to turn track and field upside down and win races. I’m going to go out there and target every top athlete there is and pick them off one by one. There are a lot of people who don’t want to see me run, don’t want to see me do good.”
Many wonder how Gatlin will recover from his forced running retreat. He steadfastly maintains his innocence from the second offense that led to his current four-year suspension, claiming that the banned substance was placed in his body without his knowledge.
For now, Gatlin lives simply and patiently awaits a return to competition. He resides in a three-bedroom apartment in Duluth, Ga, a northeast Atlanta suburb. He is a business partner with the company Global Sports Performance, concentrating on speed training young athletes in football, baseball, soccer and track and field, and works out of a small facility not far from his apartment.
“I teach kids about biomechanics, drive phase, transition, acceleration, wasted movement,” Gatlin says. “I’ve always had the love for working with kids.”
He hosts a youth track and field meet in Pensacola, Fl., where he grew up. It was at that meet earlier this year when Gatlin announced his intentions to return to competition in 2010. He trains almost daily, including track sessions several times a week.
Gatlin has resumed school, taking online sociology classes and needs to complete 12 credit hours to graduate. Further, his off-the-track interests have evolved. He says he’s been writing a script for a TV pilot that would tell the story of a music mogul’s rise from adversity and he’s wrote a treatment for a reality show about his life outside of track and field.
Curiosities surround Gatlin’s positive test. Before 2006, Gatlin was promoted as a visible spokesperson for winning with integrity, which included speaking out against doping and taking responsibility for his actions.
Not knowing about the source of the steroid shows an uncharacteristic lack of awareness by Gatlin, who practiced meticulous methods to ensure no illegal substances entered his body.
“From 2003 I’ve taken the same supplements from the same vitamin shop,” he says. “Nothing was air mailed to me, nothing was packaged. Nothing was dropped to my door. I got all that stuff myself. “
Jeff Hartwig, a two-time U.S. Olympic pole-vaulter who retired from competition last year at age 41, is a staunch supporter of strict anti-doping rules and has served on USA Track and Field athlete’s advisory committee. His reaction of shock to the news about Gatlin’s positive test was common in the track and field community.
“Of all the people who ever tested positive, Justin was never a name that came up prior to testing positive,” he says. “He was not a typically flamboyant sprinter as some of those guys can be. He was a very nice, humble guy. That was a quality that made him very likeable on the international circuit. It really caught a lot of people off guard.”
Two-time U.S. Olympian Darvis Patton, who ran in the 100-meter final at the 2008 Beijing Games at the age of 30, says he thought news of Gatlin testing positive was a rumor. “Guys that tested positive in the past were kind of prima donnas,” Patton says. “When they tested positive, it was like, ‘whatever.’ But when Justin tested positive, it was, ‘ah, no, not Gat’ ”.
U.S. runner Moushoumi Robinson, a gold medalist in the 4x400-meter relay at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was a training partner with Gatlin under coach Trevor Graham at the Sprint Capitol Track Club and called Gatlin a great friend who she “loves dearly”. She says it’s still hard to believe that Gatlin tested positive for a banned substance.
“I remember a conversation that Justin and I had after it happened,” she says. “I asked him straight up, ‘what happened?’ He absolutely said, ‘I have no idea.’ I was shocked.”
It hasn’t helped Gatlin that he chose to stay with a Graham after the coach admitted sending a drug-tainted syringe to federal authorities in 2003, triggering the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) investigation, and after several of Graham’s athletes were linked to BALCO.
Many of Graham’s former athletes, including former Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones, claim Graham supplied them with banned performance enhancing substances. Graham denies culpability for his athletes’ testing positive and was later found guilty of lying to federal authorities investigating BALCO.
A person who has worked with some of Graham’s athletes and knows the coach well says Graham’s claims of innocence lack credibility. “There’s not another coach out there with that many athletes who tested positive and all of them are lying and you’re just a victim? That doesn’t add up,” he says. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Gatlin did not feel suspicious of Graham. “I felt that he wasn’t giving me anything and I wasn’t taking anything for him,” he says. "He wasn’t putting his hands on me. And early in the 2005 season we sat down together as a team. He was saying 'I’m not wrapped up in that stuff.' It was reassuring. A lot of us were so focused on running."
Asafa Powell set the 100-meter world record in June 2005, 10 months before Gatlin tested positive. At the time of the positive test, Jamaican Asafa Powell was the world record holder in the 100 meters whiel Gatlin held the world title and Olympic gold.
Was the temptation to be the undeniable king of the sprints enough for Gatlin to use drugs, even unknowingly? Is Gatlin a victim of convoluted circumstances that were out of his control? Or is he a uniquely gifted con man who has fooled us with his appealing personality and impassioned claim of innocence?
One thing is certain. He headlines a cast of characters that comprise a mysteriously compelling, confusing and complex track and field drama.

Mon May 11, 2009 By Dave Ungrady/Universal Sports

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