International Athletics

Gatlin 'misunderstood' - manager

2015-05-20 13:37
Justin Gatlin (File)

Cape Town - When a furious Justin Gatlin left Beijing, boasting he was going 'to drop a bomb" in his next race, his manager could only raise a smile.

Renaldo Nehemiah, one of the great athletes of his own era, recognises the fire still burning in Gatlin, one of the most polarising figures in athletics.

Gatlin has twice failed drugs tests and is almost seen as a symbol of the sport's modern ills. Yet at 33, running faster than ever, the American defies age, biophysics and all logic.

He could even challenge the peerless Usain Bolt, and could be the first ex-Olympic champion to regain the 100m crown after serving a drugs ban, a prospect that sits uncomfortably with his critics.

"There's nothing he can do about the criticism, the bed's been made," Nehemiah said in an interview.

"But what it does is fuel him. Not from anger but it fuels him to combat the doubters. It gives him that extra chip on his shoulder which he can tunnel into pristine focus.

"He's a man on a mission. He knows he has only so many races and years left so he's making every one of them count. It's not a distraction, it motivates him. It's like 'take that!'"

Controversy pursues Gatlin more effectively than most of his 100m pursuers. The latest drama happened when he stormed out on the eve of Wednesday's Beijing World Challenge meeting, saying organisers showed him a lack of respect by asking him to leave.

Gatlin wanted to compete but organisers were evidently worried he might not be fit enough because of a slight injury he was carrying after setting his fastest-ever time, 9.74, in Doha last week.

Either way, it again threw Gatlin towards unwelcome headlines and aroused further suspicion that some in the athletics hierarchy see him as an embarrassment.

Nehemiah does not believe there is a conspiracy against Gatlin but does think his client suffers from being misunderstood.

"People who aren't students of the sport don't realise he was a phenom before he ever got banned. He was going to be as good as he is now, whatever," Nehemiah said.

"He just got together with a coach (Trevor Graham) who wasn't patient and who wanted to make a name for himself. And they also don't realise that in the four years his body has been rested and though he might be 33, he's like 28 years old.

"Put two and two together and they (the critics) are just very upset... The more he wins, the more they're disgruntled."

One of the criticisms aimed at Gatlin is that he appeared to show no remorse nor admit culpability, protesting that he was a victim of sabotage while under Graham's watch.

But Nehemiah disagrees with the critics, saying Gatlin toured schools as an ambassador for US Track and Field's anti-doping campaign.

"How much more remorseful or humbling could that be? So when I hear people talking about how he's never apologised, I'd say they don't know what they're talking about.

"He's like the poster child for the whole sport's ills which is unfortunate.

"So I feel for him. It's a stain which he knows that he'll never be able to erase so, as I've said to him, all you can do is to continue to hold your head high, play by the rules and run fast. And that's what he's doing."

Read more on:    justin gatlin  |  athletics

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