Star who cheated the world

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Here's a nice commentary on J Gat from Richard Lewis of the London Times:

Justin Gatlin is set to pay the ultimate sporting price as he faces a life ban from athletics after attempting to beat the system. Five years on from failing one drugs test but then being reinstated into the sport, the American 100m Olympic and world champion and world record holder has brought new shame to a sport which believed him once but can never trust him again. 

Gatlin, 24, failed a drugs test in April which detected unusual levels of testosterone, the same substance that may have brought down cyclist Floyd Landis, the winner of the Tour de France. He was told of the result in mid-June and is hoping to clear his name.

From his base in Rayleigh, North Carolina, Gatlin has spun out every trick in the book this summer to avoid a showdown with Asafa Powell to see who would be the fastest man in the world. They both hold the best-ever time of 9.77sec, but just who was Gatlin kidding? All his excuses were just a smokescreen as he hid away after becoming the latest world superstar at the centre of the cancer which is ripping apart what was once the most pure and genuine of all sports.

In 2001, Gatlin tested positive for amphetamines but he claimed he had a form of attention-deficit disorder and the illegal substances which were found in his system were as a result of medicine he was taking. The IAAF, the sport’s international governing body, banned him for two years but dropped the suspension when they decided that they believed his claims.

It gave him a second chance and, it seems, he abused it from the very start. At the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, few people imagined he could become the champion. He did, and then 12 months later he added the world title in Helsinki. In May of this year — at a time of the season when there would be no reason for an American sprinter to be at peak form — he clocked 9.77sec in Doha to match the world record that Powell had set the previous year.

Across the world promoters were down on their knees thanking the arrival of this spectacular head-to-head in the 100m, the blue riband event of track and field. But now we find out that all along Gatlin was taking the sport for a ride and — after what athletics will see as another triumph over the drug cheats — we are left wondering what to believe again.

Gatlin was not like your normal sprinter but his links with his coach, Trevor Graham, do arouse further suspicion as the latter has worked with Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, at one time the best sprinters in the world.

Last year Montgomery, the former world record holder, was banned without even testing positive, such were his links with the Balco drug scandal in the USA that officials found enough evidence to ban him anyway. His former partner, Jones, the 2000 Olympic champion, was also dragged into the controversy. They are no longer together and she is running again and on every occasion she competes she says that she does not care what the doubters think.

But Gatlin will enter athletics’ hall of shame one notch below the ultimate cheat, Canadian Ben Johnson, the last man to test positive while holding the Olympic 100m title. Many people associate Johnson’s disgrace, when he tested positive in Seoul in 1988 and was stripped of the gold medal just days after winning it, as the moment which changed athletics for ever.

They say you have to be a great showman to be at the top of world sprinting. But will anybody ever learn? Linford Christie, Britain’s 1992 Olympic champion, tested positive when his career was all but finished and suddenly everything that had gone before him was tarnished with the stench of suspicion.

And even yesterday, British athletics named Dwain Chambers in their team for the European Championships in Gothenburg next week, a sprinter who has just come back from a ban of his own. Chambers said he took drugs long before he was tested positive and under the rules was suspended for two years. He was offered something and he took it, and while the riches that can come from being a champion might just be too much of a temptation for some, just when will these athletes learn? No sport tests its competitors more than track and field. It is encouraging that the sport will spend millions on research and the process of trying to trap the cheats. And it tests more because it knows that there are people out there using substances all the time. If Gatlin cannot clear his name his career will be over. It has probably finished anyway because who could trust him again? He will lose his Olympic and world titles, he will no longer be a joint world-record holder, and he will be another statistic in a sport that can reach no lower. But for all that, out there somewhere, somebody will be cheating because if the Olympic 100m champion thinks he can get away with it, you know others do too.

 

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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
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