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Justin Gatlin Goes For Olympic Gold In Rio

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  The Pensacola area has two athletes to watch at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Bubba Watson is participating in his first ever Olympic Games. The men’s golf competition began Thursday. This is the third Olympics for track and field star Justin Gatlin. 

Gatlin is going into the Olympics on a high, as the best sprinter in the U.S. He’s proven that consistently in the last few years. And, he proved it again last month in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, winning both the 100 and 200 meter races.

NBC Sports broadcast the trials. In the 100, Gatlin led from the start, and finished in 9.8 seconds, a legal time that was the fastest in the world this year.

With the victory, he’s going back to the Olympics with a chance to again claim the Olympic gold and the designation as the world’s fastest man.  

But, Gatlin will be going for gold at the ripe old age of 34, the oldest American to make an Olympic team in the 100 since 1912.

Prior to the trials, he was asked about how his preparations have changed as a sprinter in his 30s.

‘Yea, you know, when you get older, you forget that you have joints when you get up in the morning. It’s hard for me to roll out of bed,” said Gatlin. “But, you know, it’s just being more diligent, you know preparing myself. I train with a lot of younger athletes, all of them probably from 26 and under. So, they keep me live and keep me focused. But, also I teach them a lot about how to be more veteran and how to be more focused in the sport.”

Gatlin, who was a star runner at Pensacola’s Woodham High School and the University of Tennessee, was just 22 years old when earned his Olympic gold medal in the 100 at the 2004 Games in Athens. Also in ’04, he also earned a bronze in the 200m and silver in the Men’s 4 x 100 relay.

He added a bronze in the 100 at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

But, the glaring hole in Gatlin’s Olympic resume is 2008 in Beijing. At that time he was serving a 4 year ban for a doping violation, the second such suspension of his career.

It’s been a long six years since Gatlin returned to competition in 2010 and began his climb back to elite status. But, the doping cloud continues to hang over him.

Consider the current doping controversy surrounding the Russian Olympic delegation; with American swimmer Lilly King turning up the heat by calling out her Russian competitor Yulia Efimova as a cheater, before their race Monday in the 100 meter breaststroke, which King won.

Gatlin got pulled in, in their post-race news conference, as King was asked “if Efimova shouldn’t be in Rio, what about Gatlin?”

“People who’ve been caught for doping offenses, should they be on the team, no they shouldn’t,” said King. “It’s just something that should be set in stone that this is what we’re gonna do to settle this and that should be the end of it.”

For the Olympic Games in Rio, the entire Russian track and field team was banned, as were many other athletes from the country. But, the International Olympic Committee did allow about 70 percent of the Russian delegation to compete in Rio, thus the rub for swimmer Lilly King. Gatlin says athletes who can prove they are clean, should be allowed to compete.

“At the end of the day, you got to think about fair is fair,” Gatlin said. “If an athlete has come and he’s been tested or she’s been tested and they pass the test, I don’t think they should be prosecuted or make a statement with other people who’ve done wrong.”

Although Gatlin has posted the year’s fastest time in the 100 at 9.8, he still faces an uphill battle on the track, having to go head to head with Jamaica’s iconic sprinter Usain Bolt. Bolt is the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 100 and 200, and he has six gold medals overall.

Gatlin has one victory over Bolt, but has yet to defeat him on this biggest of stages. However, in an interview on WQHT, or Hot 97, in New York, where he was born, he said he was ready to go.

“You know, last year, it was all about time and records and trying to be the best and trying to be consistent. And, this year it’s not even about time anymore. It’s not a number, it’s a letter; it’s that W.” That means he’s just looking to win.

Gatlin will begin his 2016 Olympics in Rio on Saturday as the Men’s 100 meter prelims get underway. He’ll compete in the 200 beginning on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The opening rounds of the 4 by 100 relay start next Thursday, Aug. 18. 

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.