The IAAF World Championships begin tomorrow in London. It will mark the end of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt’s remarkable career as the greatest male sprinter of all time. It will also be the final chance for Brooklyn-born Justin Gatlin to conquer Bolt. He is the last man to defeat Bolt in the 100-meters, back in June 2013, an anomaly given Bolt’s nearly perfect record over the past 10 years.
The 35-year-old Gatlin won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 100-meters before Bolt’s emergence. He was serving a four-year doping ban during the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a result of testing positive for an illegal performance-enhancing substance in April 2006. It was in China where Bolt would begin his dominance, winning gold in the 100- and 200-meters, setting world records in both.
Gatlin was back in 2012 at the Olympics in London, finishing third in the 100-meters to Bolt’s customary first place spot. Last summer in Brazil, Gatlin, still chasing Bolt, took silver in the 100. His three Olympic medals in the 100-meters put him among the best ever. Unfortunately, Gatlin’s most glaring issue is one that he has no control over, which is competing in the same era as the Bolt, who will turn 31 Aug 21.
Despite the anticipation of their concluding and expected matchup in the finals, Gatlin isn’t so certain Bolt will say goodbye forever after the World Championships. “…He has the opportunity of always coming back. He can still come back,” Gatlin said to the international media this past weekend as he readies for one of track and field’s most significant events.
Gatlin observed “He could have a year of rest and say, ‘You know what, I love track so much, I can’t leave it too soon.’Why not? He has that rock star mentality,Where he can go travel the world, go and have fun, party in different places and then come back and say, ‘I want to take this seriously one more time.’”
Maybe Bolt will determine his exit was premature and return to competitive sprinting after a hiatus. But for now his decision to step away has to be taken at face value, which should make the highly anticipated 100-meter final even more meaningful and urgent for Gatlin.