Here's an interesting commentary on J Gats future by Mike Strange of the KnoxNews:
His gold-medal career as America's top sprinter is headed into limbo. Now the question turns to what Justin Gatlin's career will be like when it emerges from limbo.
If it ever does.
Could a 32-year-old Gatlin, or even a 28-year-old Gatlin, return to the elite level of sprinting when his anti-doping sanctions expire?
The 24-year-old former University of Tennessee All-American agreed to a deal last week that includes an eight-year ban from competition, the result of a failed drug test in April.
However, it is not correct to assume Gatlin agreed to the eight-year ban.
Eight years is the starting point in a negotiating process that will be reduced if he cooperates with anti-doping authorities by providing information on the plague that has given the sport such a black eye.
"I don't know what extenuating circumstances they are going to use to bargain down his years,'' said Bill Webb, UT men's track and field coach.
"It will be difficult to come back, but not impossible.''
Gatlin's legal team will file for arbitration in hopes of reducing the suspension. On Friday, Gatlin still protested his innocence.
Webb has scarcely had contact with Gatlin since he left school in 2002 to turn pro. As a Vol, he won NCAA titles in the 60, 100 and 200 meters while leading UT to indoor and outdoor national championships.
As a pro, Gatlin won Olympic gold in 2004 and on May 12 tied the world record in the 100.
"He was such a class, quality guy when he was here,'' Webb said, "and we're so proud of everything he's done.
"I don't want to give up on the fact that he's completely innocent but it's hard in the light of the current climate out there now.''
Gatlin could have gotten a lifetime ban as a second-time offender. However, his first positive test in 2001 – for prescription medicine to treat attention-deficit disorder – was ruled unintentional. At the time, Gatlin received a one-year ban from international competition that did not affect his collegiate career.
Although Gatlin's legal team hopes to reduce the current suspension to two years or less, four is the minimum, according to a spokesman for the IAAF, which governs international track and field.
Returning from a four-year layoff at 28 would be difficult in the 100. At 32, the odds would be even longer.
"(NBA stars) John Stockton and Karl Malone changed their games,'' said Webb, "but in the 100 meters there's no changing your game.''
It's not impossible, however, that Gatlin could change his event.
J.J. Clark, head coach of the Tennessee women's team, points to his wife, Jearl Miles-Clark.
At 39, she's training to try for her sixth Olympic team in 2008.
"She was solid in the 100 and an All-America in the 200, the long jump and the quarter (400),'' Clark said. "Her strength was in the shorter sprints but as she got older she moved up to the half (-mile, or 800).
"Gatlin is exceptional. He could step up to the quarter and run the hurdles.''
Gatlin, in fact, came to UT as a prep star in the hurdles.
"It's going to be difficult to come back in the 100,'' Clark said. "But he might take those 100-meter qualities and transform them to another event and maybe extend his career.
"And then the trump card is he's so gifted.''
Edwin Moses maintained his dominance in the 400 hurdles into his early 30s. In 1992, Linford Christie actually won the Olympic 100 at 32.
But Gatlin will face the additional challenge of maintaining his form through a prolonged suspension.
Kelli White, a former Lady Vols' sprinter busted for performance-enhancing drugs as a professional in 2004, recently completed a two-year suspension. However, White retired rather than resume her career.
Gatlin has been banned from U.S. Olympic training facilities and on Friday was suspended from his Nike contract.
"I hope for the best for him,'' said Webb.
Clark expects Gatlin to take some time off and then regroup. He'll be able to afford training and do whatever he can to stay sharp.
"He's got to be ready when his time comes,'' Clark said.
"It's not going to be easy, but he's so gifted he may shock the world.''
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276.