|Justin Gatlin acknowledges the crowd prior to competing in the men's 100-meter during the Doha IAAF Diamond League 2015 meeting at the Qatar Sports Club on May 15, 2015 in Doha, Qatar.
EUGENE, Ore. -- The only thing that seems to slow Justin Gatlin these days is the hordes of spectators waiting to congratulate him after races.
Gatlin put on another show for track and field fans Saturday at the 41st annual Prefontaine Classic, crushing the men’s 200-meter field with a time of 19.68 seconds, easily the fastest outdoor mark in the world so far this year. (University of Florida sprinter Dedric Dukes posted a 19.99 time earlier this month at the Southeastern Conference championships).
At 33 years young, Gatlin, who was banned for doping by the IAAF from 2006 to 2010, is having one of the best seasons of his career, before or after his suspension. On May 15 at the Diamond League’s season-opening event in Doha, Qatar, he won the men’s 100 in 9.74 seconds, a mark only four other sprinters have ever topped (and no one has this year).
“I’m very proud to be here and to be able to run with these young guys,” Gatlin said Saturday following a victory lap at historic Hayward Field, the site of the third meet on the Diamond League’s 2015 schedule. “Whether it’s Prefontaine, nationals or a little local meet, I want to go out there and give it all I have that day.”
Gatlin’s all was more than enough as he blasted a field that featured several sprinters who were in junior high when he won gold in the 100 and bronze in the 200 at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. South Africa’s Anaso Jobodwana, 22, was the runner-up in Saturday’s 200 in 20.04 and Jamaican 25-year-old Nickel Ashmeade took third in 20.18. Gatlin was the only competitor in the men’s 200 older than 26.
“I don’t think age is anything but a number,” he said with a smile.
With his early-season times, Gatlin looks to contend for world titles in the 100 and 200 at the IAAF World Championships in August in Beijing. He already is qualified in the 100 as the reigning Diamond League champion and will only have to run the 200 at the USATF Outdoor Championships back at Hayward Field in June.
“A lot of people might think (these times) are too early,” Gatlin said when asked if he was worried about peaking too soon. “But I’m a guy that likes to get on his game and stay there. If I need to rise to the occasion at a competition … I’ll amp it up a little more.”
How much lower Gatlin can go in the 100 and the 200 is anyone’s guess, as he’s already set or equaled personal bests in both events this year.
“I want to go into the sixes,” Gatlin said about the 100, meaning a time under 9.70 seconds. The U.S record, set by Tyson Gay in 2009, is 9.69 seconds. “If that means I’m going for the American record, then that’s what I’m trying to do.
“When you’re on your game,” he added, “and you cross the finish line in a race, you’re not surprised or shocked. I prepare myself for these kind of races in practice on a regular basis.”
Gatlin said his four years away from the track may have helped him in the long run and that it gave him plenty of motivation upon his return.
“Having been out of the sport, it may have given me a little bit more shelf life,” he said.
Gatlin now has 17 wins on the Diamond League circuit, the most of any male competitor that was in Eugene for the Prefontaine Classic.
“I’m eager to prove I’m a great runner and want to end my career the same way it started,” he said. “The last couple of years, I felt like I was over-concentrating. Now I’m just having a good time and staying focused.”
Gatlin clearly enjoyed himself in Eugene, spending considerable time with fans around the track following his 200 victory.
“Not to take anything from track fans around the world,” he said, “but these are true track fans. They’re not just here to see the 1,500 or the steeplechase or the long jump or the high jump. They’re here to see everything.”