Years from now, Justin Gatlin will remember the bow more than the chorus of boos.
OK, so Gatlin may have ruined Usain Bolt’s going-away party with his surprise win in the 100 metres at the world championships on Saturday night. Gatlin still did his best to soften the blow by bowing down to third-place finisher Bolt on his way off the track — a way of telling the people he knows what the Jamaican great has done for his sport.
“I have nothing but respect for him,” said Gatlin, who, at 35, is five years Bolt’s senior. “Even with me being older than him, he’s such an inspiration for me.”
Gatlin was booed at almost every turn this week in London — during introductions, at any time when his face showed up on the big screen, and never louder than when his name popped up on the top of the scoreboard as the winner in Bolt’s farewell 100-metre race at the worlds.
By now, Gatlin is used to it. With his doping past — his suspension ended in 2010 — the American has long been portrayed as the bad guy set against Bolt’s charismatic, fun-loving personality.
Gatlin was initially banned for two years in 2001 after testing positive for amphetamines, which he took to treat attention deficit disorder since childhood. After an appeal, the IAAF lifted the ban.
In July 2006, Gatlin was suspended again after testing positive for testosterone. He denied using any performance-enhancing drugs, but agreed to an eight-year ban from track and field to avoid a lifetime ban in exchange for his cooperation with authorities. The ban was later reduced to four years, which he served before returning to competition in 2010.
He insisted he doesn’t care what anyone thinks and said all the boos were just background noise to him.
“I stayed focused on what I had to do,” Gatlin said. “I guess because I’ve become more of a rival for Usain, that’s where the booing comes from. I didn’t get booed throughout 2010. No boos in ’11, no boos in ’12, and ’12 was here [for the London Olympics]. Didn’t get boos in ’13, ’14 or ’15.
“Just to be able to come back, regardless of boos, I still heard cheers.”
‘I hurt for him’
They came from his support staff, his family, his friends.
“That’s all I cared about,” he said.
But about those friends — it sure is hard to be close to him and not be bothered by the hecklers.