Many see Usain Bolt as the saviour of the sport, after the dark shadow cast by Justin Gatlin…

The long-awaited build-up for the 100m final at the World Athletics Championships between Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and USA’s Justin Gatlin did not disappoint. The two powerhouses took the field by storm leading to a narrowly edged win by the world-renowned Jamaican. All were left in awe by the exhilarating performance, but is it fair to say that Usain Bolt saved our sport?

The former 2004 Olympic Champion and 2005 World Athletics Champion, Justin Gatlin has had a dark past associated with performance-enhancing drugs. In 2001 he was tested positive for using amphetamines connected with attention deficit disorder (ADD) which he has been taking since a young age. He criticised the media after his first drugs violation by stating: ‘Last time I checked, someone who takes medication for a disorder is not a doper’. A fine line must be drawn in the world of athletics between those with disorders and drugs used to treat these disorders. Gatlin further raised equality issues with his ban as he stated, ‘Other people in the sport have taken the same medication I had for ADD and only got warnings’, further adding, (based on the two-year ban which was then reduced to one year) ‘I didn’t’.

His early suspension from the world of track and field was just the beginning of his career. His use of the drugs might have eventually faded or been downplayed as the years went by. However, the Olympic gold medallist and World Champion failed a test for the banned steroid testosterone in 2006. Due to testing positive, the athlete was banned for four years, enraging the fans of track and field and tarnishing his image as the champion he once was.  Although many thought that would be the end of his career, Justin Gatlin was able to make his comeback into the sport in 2010.

Despite Gatlin’s best attempts to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, the media have blasted him for his past actions as well as the suspect success of his recent wins. How does a man at 33 years of age run the best times of his sprinting career? After the recent 100m final at the World Athletics Championships shown on the BBC, the broadcaster’s chief sports writer Tom Fordyce published his opinion, with his piece titled: ‘Usain Bolt delivers his greatest miracle in beating Justin Gatlin’, further insinuating the ‘good vs evil’ motif. Many people feel that Gatlin represents the bad side of sport, whereas the Jamaican represents everything that an athlete lives for.

After the highly anticipated race, 400m hurdles British Gold medallist Dai Greene expressed at the studio his strong hatred towards Gatlin, telling Gabby Logan how he ‘can’t stand the sight of him’ at the starting line of the track, or that he should have been ‘criticised even more’ towards the build-up to the race. In retaliation to his comments, Michael Johnson defended the American sprinter by stating: ‘Gatlin is not the problem … Gatlin will be gone one day, that doesn’t mean that people are not going to cheat’.

Johnson further pointed out that half of the athletes in the 100m start-up line beside Gatlin were also one-time dopers. Mike Rodgers, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay represent a different outlook onto the race: cheat and one day you can still prosper.

Bolt said before the race that he could not save the sport on his own. At some point in the near future, Bolt will retire from the sport as one of the greatest wonders of our sporting age, yet issues circling the sport will always continue to arise. The problem is with public perception. Gatlin is not the person who should be disliked, he is just a face representing a much greater situation – using drugs and being allowed back into the sport. Today’s legends of athletics at some point in their lives will all retire, the sport however, must live on and continue to flourish despite controversial drug issues that may happen again.


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