Justin Gatlin celebrates winning silver in the men's 100-meter final at the17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Sept. 28, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
Justin Gatlin had a plan. The three-time Olympic sprinter was supposed to finish out his career on the track in Oregon, “one of my favorite places,” the 38-year-old said.
It’s the track where he started his college career as a sprinter in 2001, winning six consecutive individual NCAA titles at Hayward Field in Eugene, and the site of track and field’s next world championships.
His plan would have the five-time medalist capping off a 20-year career in front of a home crowd in Oregon — after a successful run at his fifth Olympic Games.
If he gets to worlds at Hayward Field, now postponed to 2022, he dreams of “having an emotional victory lap” at the place where it all started — while having just celebrated his 40th birthday.
After that, he hopes he “can sit back and relax a little bit — do things I haven’t had the opportunity to do, like fish and just chill. I don’t know how to fish, so between now and then I’m going to learn.”
He wants to continue to show up for the “big moments,” he said, calling a top podium finish in Tokyo “the icing on the cake.”
“I think I have the capabilities — and the mindset — to be able to stay focused and do what I need to do,” he added.
Gatlin has had a lot of big moments in his almost 20-year career. But while his career has been filled with plenty of podium finishes, it has also been marred with doubt about how he got there thanks to two doping bans.
With COVID-19 putting a pause on his season, the downtime has allowed him to work on a documentary about his side of the story called “Gatlin UNTOLD”.
“I’m not trying to get anyone to believe me, or be on my side, I just want to get my viewpoint across,” he said after practice at his home training facility in Florida.
While he knows there have been documentaries done about him in the past, “this is my opportunity to speak from my heart about everything I’ve been through in my life — good or bad.”
With it he hopes to answer some burning questions.
“Usually the first thing that people ask me once they get to know me is ‘So, what really happened?’ That’s one of the questions I want to answer with the doc. Just lay it all out there,” he said.
The other question is what did it feel like to be booed — after beating longtime rival Usain Bolt — by track fans that felt Gatlin should have received a lifetime ban from the sport. The infamous 100-meter race in 2017 was the Jamaican sprinter’s last world championship, and the first time he had been beaten at a major championship since 2007.
With Bolt retiring at the end of that championship, Tokyo has the potential to be the first Olympic Games where Gatlin has not had to face off against his rival since both athletes started their careers in 2001.
The idea of it “takes me back to my younger days,” Gatlin reminisced, “where you have multiple athletes who have the opportunity to come across that finish line first and get on top of the podium. It makes it more exciting, but it also makes it more nerve-wracking.”
Throw on top of that the pressure of having to wait another year to compete.
“We’re different from NBA players or MLB or soccer, who have championships every year. The old saying, maybe you’ll have next year, that doesn’t work for us,” he said. “And that really weighs on us as athletes. When we falter it really weighs on us, and when we win it weighs on us.”
It’s the reason a lot of elite athletes reach out for psychological support, Gatlin included.
“They have therapists on our team — and not taking anything away from them, because they do a great job preparing athletes before and after competitions — but there are a small percentage of people who understand what you go through,” he said. “And what I’ve been through in my career, there’s no one.”