Veteran Olympic champion targeting 2020 Tokyo Games

US sprinter Justin Gatlin revealed that he is still hungry for glory and has his sights firmly set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Ti Gong

US sprinter Justin Gatlin visited Qibao High School while in Shanghai.

Veteran US sprinter Justin Gatlin reveals he is still hungry for glory and has his sights firmly set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The 36-year-old reigning 100-meter World Champion was in Shanghai recently for the IAAF Diamond League, where he finished seventh in 10.20 seconds in the race won by British athlete Reece Prescod, who clocked 10.04, beating China’s Su Bingtian in only 0.01 seconds.

The five-time Olympian champion didn’t appear despondent. On the contrary, he was in a positive frame of mind and was all geared up for the upcoming athletics season.

“To me, age is more about a state of the mind,” Gatlin tells Shanghai Daily. “By the time I have accomplished everything in my career, I would start to think about what else I want to do. But right now, I’m still hungry. I’m still excited about going to races, training and integrating with the younger athletes.

“Sprinting is a very technical race even though it’s just running straight on the track. To surge for a perfect race, you need perfect technique, a great start, a strong transition and a fast finish. Every time you run you may not get them all. So I never got bored or tired of sprinting because I look at the science part,” he says.

Gatlin fired former coach Dennis Mitchell at the end of last year and turned back to 84-year-old Brooks Johnson.

“I’m an older athlete now,” says the New York-born sprinter. “It’s not only a physical thing, but a mental thing as well. Brooks is like a professor. He understands track and field by mechanics and how the body should move when running. Those are the things an athlete of my level is trying to learn.”

Dong Jun / SHINE

China’s Su Bingtian (second from left) finished second in the 100-meter sprint during the Shanghai leg of the IAAF Diamond League at Shanghai Stadium on May 12. Justin Gatlin (second from right) finished seventh in the race.

In April, Gatlin clocked 10.05 to win his season’s opening 100m event at the Grenada Invitational track meet. In March, he finished fourth in the 150m at the Athletix Grand Prix in South Africa.

“I loved South Africa, though it was a longer trip than I expected. I did not count the hours so was caught by the jet lag,” reveals Gatlin on his first visit to the country.

“In track and field, sometimes we get so focused on getting to the podiums of the Olympics and World Championships, but never get chances to have any fun, to be relaxed and enjoy the atmosphere and crowd. This year, I want to take the opportunities I can and enjoy. That’s why I decided to go early in the season when I wasn’t in the best shape and took part in the 150m. I hope such opportunities come again this year when I’m in a better form.

“I always want to be better than I was before. So I want to come out and run very fast this year. In training, times show that I can run very fast,” he says.

Gatlin was the 2004 100m Olympic champion. He claimed the 100m and 200m titles at the 2005 World Championships. His personal best of 9.74 seconds ranks fifth on the all-time list of male 100m athletes.

He has been twice suspended for doping. The last suspension, from 2006 to 2010, forced the five-time Olympic medalist to miss the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. But he doesn’t regard the four-year ban too big a strike on his career.

“Many things, including the suspension itself, prolonged my career,” says Gatlin. “A lot of athletes my age, who competed during those four years are suffering from small injuries that prevent them from running. But I’m still feeling healthy and strong. I think I can go for another two years and compete in 2020 (Olympic Games).”

Ti Gong

Gatlin interacted with students during his stay in Shanghai.

In 2017, Gatlin upset the legendary Usain Bolt to claim the 100m crown at the 2017 World Championships in London. Bolt took the bronze.

“I enjoyed myself regarding the environment in London,” reflects the American. “I enjoyed the race, which made me feel that I was 19 years old again. To race in front of people who doubted me, I just did the very best I could do.”

Talking about his rivalry with Bolt, Gatlin says he misses his Jamaican opponent.

“Usain is a special individual,” confesses Gatlin. “When racing against him, it pushes you to rise to the occasion. He is the kind of athlete you do all that you can (to beat him) or you just step aside and let him take over. So for us, it’s either beat the other or push the other to be even better, and that’s what I miss.”

Gatlin is confident that he will be on the plane for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, despite competition from the younger generation.

“Track is not a young man’s sport,” says the reigning 100m world champion. “It is actually a veteran’s sport. A lot of people make mistakes mentally when running, even if they are talented enough to be the best. The mistakes keep them away from top of the podium. Those are the things an old sprinter capitalizes on.

“2020 will be an exciting time. With technology on a rise in sport, it will be an awesome Olympics,” he says. 

Gatlin rates Chinese reigning Asian champion Su Bingtian as one of his strongest opponents, but was shocked after being told that another Chinese sprinter Zhang Peimeng has decided to turn to skeleton racing for the next Winter Olympic Games.

“He is crazy,” the sprinter jokes. “He is a good friend and I like him a lot. Maybe I will go for training lessons with him if he invites me. He is big and tall, which hopefully will be a good advantage for him. And he is fast enough as a former sprinter. But winter sport is a different and dangerous speed.”

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