EUGENE, Ore. -- After running the fastest time of his life in the 200-meter, Justin Gatlin had one word to describe the feeling.
“Tired,” he said.
But Gatlin wasn’t too tired to point at the clock.
He won the USATF Outdoor Championships with a world-leading and meet-record time of 19.57 seconds, making him the fifth fastest performer of all time (behind Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake of Jamaica and fellow Americans Michael Johnson and Walter Dix).
“My coach said, ‘Let’s just get on the team,’” Gatlin said. But he had other plans. “We’re here, one more race to go, I wanted to go out and make a statement,” he said.
That statement was so emphatic that Gatlin’s training partner, Isiah Young, a 2012 Olympian in the 200-meter, was nearly 3 meters behind him at the tape on Sunday, finishing at 19.83 seconds. Wallace Spearmon Jr., a three-time national champion, took third at 20.10.
Gatlin now has the top two times in the world this year in both the 100-meter and the 200. Although he did not run the 100 at nationals, he has a bye into the world championships in Beijing in August in that event courtesy of his Diamond League crown last season.
“Man, that guy’s crazy,” Spearmon said of Gatlin, “and I definitely like Americans back on top. I’m really close friends with Usain Bolt, so I definitely support him also, but to have (the world leader) back at home, I actually get to see it firsthand wherever I go and it just motivates me.”
|Justin Gatlin lays on the track after winning the men's 200-meter final at the 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field on June 28, 2015 in Eugene, Ore.
After the race, Gatlin was bent over on the track because of lactic acid. “It hurt,” he said. “My body’s never been there before, but it felt great. I trained for it. I just never put it together in a race and that’s my first time.”
He doesn’t expect it to be his last.
“Technically I thought it was probably one of the best races I had,” Gatlin said. “I stayed calm and focused. I put together a good turn. Obviously, I had my teammate Isiah Young in front of me, so it helped out a lot, kept me comfortable.”
Gatlin, 33, is the 2004 Olympic champion in the 100 and, after serving a four-year doping ban, came back to win the bronze medal in that event at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“I’m just glad to be a part of the team,” he said. “I’m glad to be able to wave the flag and represent America. It’s an honor to me. Every day since we’ve been out here, you see that flag up there? It brings a little tear to my eye, so I’m happy to be able to go out here and run at the best track and field event in the world.”
Gatlin, who will run some Diamond League 100-meter races — but no more 200s until worlds — has not lost a race since Bolt defeated him in the 100 at the 2013 world championships in Moscow.
“I never get down about losses,” Gatlin said. “I was happy because I was a little bit closer to Bolt when I saw the still photo and it gave me inspiration to go into 2014.”
After his 200 heat on Friday, when he ran 19.92 seconds, Gatlin said that if he had run the 100 at nationals he would have posted an eye-opening time. Tyson Gay, who owns the American record of 9.69 seconds, won the event in 9.87 seconds.
“I’d like to say 9.6, threaten the American record,” Gatlin said. “That’s what I’ve been working on, steadily but surely. I want to be able to go out there and do something like that.”
And now the 200 American record — Michael Johnson’s 19.32 — is in his sights, too.
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.