C’mon Gatlin, give us the inside dope on doping
World 100m champion just ignores the sticky subject
World 100m champion Justin Gatlin missed a trick on his brief visit to South Africa last week.
The sprinter has twice been banned for doping — and he’s maintained his innocence on both occasions — but the way he talks about it just doesn’t sound, well, convincing.
Make no mistake, the man is charming and away from the public’s glare he seems like a great guy.
I’ve seen how he interacts with rivals a few times at meets abroad and he’s impressed me; at the 2015 world championships in Beijing he went up to Akani Simbine, then a relative unknown, congratulating him with a fist bump after qualifying for the 200m semifinals.
Anaso Jobodwana had a similar experience at the 2013 world championships in Moscow.Gatlin also gives time to the media. At the 2012 Diamond League in Monaco, the last meet before the London Olympics, he stood around for several minutes answering every question from journalists — and there were plenty of them — before leaving.
At the press conference before the Liquid Telecom Athletix Grand Prix meet in Pretoria, and in the mixed zone after he finished fourth in the 150m at the Tuks track, Gatlin was accommodating and pleasant.
Ask him about athletics and it’s easy to detect his passion; ask him about the technicalities of his sport and he gets intellectual.
But ask him about doping and Gatlin becomes bland. Even worse, perhaps, he becomes noncommittal.
Before the 2004 Athens Olympics, where Gatlin won the 100m crown, I interviewed Shaun Bownes, the South African 110m hurdles champion who had served time for doping.
He admitted knowingly following the advice of a doctor to take a steroid to get over an injury. By the time he competed again, his body was supposed to have been clear of the substance, but it wasn’t, and he failed the drug test.
It’s pretty rare for a sportsman who fails a drug test to admit to wrongdoing, but that’s the path Bownes took, and he went on to warn other athletes about his mistake.
Bownes, a convicted doper, took a stance against doping.Gatlin first tested positive for amphetamines which he apparently took for attention deficit disorder. The sanction was reduced on appeal.
In 2006 he tested positive for steroids, although he has always maintained that he doesn’t know how they got into his system.
Does Gatlin ever harbour suspicions about rivals who might be doping?
“I believe in my competitors, I believe that they’re clean ... we just go forward with the best intentions and everyone is on the up and up and they’re training hard, and they’re getting ready.
“Once we get to the start line for an Olympics, world championships, that’s not on our mind; our mind is to accomplish our goals what we have going forward, and that’s what I do.”
Whenever Gatlin gets asked about doping, he has the opportunity to come out strongly against it. As someone who has denied guilt, he can’t follow the Bownes approach of admitting guilt.
But surely he could still come out strongly and be a bit more evangelical about the dangers of doping and warn about watching out for nefarious types dropping banned substances into your physio creams or ice creams or whatever?
For a man who missed four of what might have been his best years on the sidelines, from 2006-2010 for the steroids offence, you’d think he’d show the same passion about doping as he does about athletics.
But he doesn’t seem to, and it just seems to jar.