The good, the bad and the fastest: Bolt vs Gatlin down the years

  • N Ananthanarayanan, New Delhi:
  • Updated: Aug 14, 2016 18:40 IST
Usain Bolt (centre) comes into the Olympics with a 9.88 sec 100m run and 19.89 sec in the 200m in London last month, which his coach Glen Mills was dismissive of. (AP)

The men’s 100 metres final at the 2004 Athens Olympics was a bit of a letdown, actually. At least for the photographers who had distributed dozens of remote cameras -- an elaborate exercise by international agencies to make sure nothing from the blink-and-you-miss race is missed.

And Justin Gatlin should take some of the blame. Almost all cameras were focused from lanes 4 to 7 -- Shawn Crawford (US), Francis Obikwelu (Portugal), Asafa Powell (Jamaica) and defending champion, Maurice Greene (US).

The young Gatlin not just confounded his rivals by winning from lane 3, he turned his face towards the inside field as he dipped at the finish, clocking 9.85 sec.

A sideshow

As the 23-year-old was soaking in the adulation, another rising star would not be feeling any such elation. Usain Bolt was eliminated in the heats and left nursing a hamstring injury as well as doubts over which direction he was going in his career.

The switch to train under Glen Mills, and a major overhaul of his running style, has seen Bolt dominate the sprints like no one had or is unlikely to in the future.

The 100m semifinal and final later on Sunday --- early morning in India --- is likely to be the biggest highlight of the Rio Olympics. Few will even think of the final being anything other than a battle between Bolt and Gatlin, or ‘good and evil’ as it has been dubbed.

The focus is on Gatlin’s two doping suspensions. One came when he was 19, in 2001. He was slapped a two-year ban after testing positive for amphetamines. He contended that it was in the medication he has taken since childhood for attention deficit disorder. The appeal was accepted and the suspension was reduced to one year.

Four-year ban

But the more damning ban came in 2006. He tested positive for testosterone following a dope test done by the US anti-doping body (USADA). Gatlin claimed innocence and, on appeal, an eight-year ban which would have ended his career, was reduced to four. But his world-record run of 9.77 sec was annulled.

At 34, Gatlin -- the man with the best start in the business and who admits to being the world champion of starts in the last couple of seasons -- is a sprinting marvel. At 29, Bolt is already talking about the struggle to recover from the aches and pains.

Gatlin, for his longevity at the highest level of global sprinting, can be compared to Michael Phelps, who at 31 swept to five gold medals to sign off his career on a high. But a finger has repeatedly been pointed at his doping past. While Bolt has shrugged it off, US woman swimmer Lilly King has said dope-tainted athletes don’t deserve a place in the Olympics.

Gatlin has dismissed it, asking who she was and that he belonged to track and field and not swimming.

(Gatlin talking Olympics, Bolt in a radio talk show in July)

Consistent Season

On the track, the American has been very consistent, and has run the fastest 100m of 2016 -- 9.80 sec at the US Olympic trials. He was also the fastest, winning his preliminary heat on Saturday at 10.01.

Bolt, on the other hand has hardly raced this season. Following a hamstring injury, the Jamaican athletics federation gave him a medical exemption. He comes into the Olympics with a 9.88 sec 100m run and 19.89 sec in the 200m in London last month, which his coach Glen Mills was dismissive of.

But that has not stopped talk of whether he will better his world records of 9.58 and 19.19 set at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.

Check out how far ahead Bolt is compared to sprinters from other countries: 


After winning his heats on Saturday at 10.07 sec, jogging to the finish line, Bolt termed it sluggish. But his chief rival knows he has beaten his Jamaican rival just once in the last decade -- at the 2013 Golden Gala in Rome, in a slow 9.94 sec.

While Bolt’s career has zoomed since that disappointing day in Athens 12 years ago -- he is aiming for a triple-treble of 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay -- Gatlin knows he has been second best on every big occasion they have raced together.

Like this time, Bolt had a hamstring problem going into the 2012 London Olympics, but he dominated the field to set an Olympic record in the 100m (9.63), pushing Galtin to bronze.

Rio will definitely be the last Olympics for Gatlin, and that is most likely to be case as well with Bolt, four years the American’s junior. But going by the heats, the Jamaican champion knows it won’t be a cakewalk.

But that is what they said in 2008 and 2012.

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