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VIDEO: Justin Gatlin beats Usain Bolt in Rome

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Athens 100m Olympic champ Justin Gatlin out-leaned world record holder Usain Bolt at the tape Thursday at the Diamond League meet in Rome to beat the Beijing and London gold medalist for the first time in their storied careers.

“Bolt is a great competitor and a great champion,” Gatlin told reporters. “To come out here and have a victory, it just stamps that I’m having a good season… You can never count out Usain.”

Gatlin was clocked at 9.94 seconds – a step slower than the 9.91 he posted in Beijing last month – while Bolt came in right behind him in 9.95, and said, smiling, that he was just happy to finish under 10-seconds for the first time this season. Jimmy Vicaut of France finished third in 10.02.

Bolt, who ran 9.76 in Rome last season, actually got off to a rare good start Thursday – the fastest in the field – which usually spells doom for his competitors. But the 31-year-old Gatlin was able to quickly chase him down, take a lead by the 50-meter mark, and somehow hold off the reigning Olympic champ.

“I got the perfect start. What I wanted,” Bolt told reporters. “About five steps in, I stumbled a little bit.”

Bolt then joked that he had a little bit more strength work to do after he was bothered by a mild hamstring strain earlier this season that forced him out of the Kingston Invitational. American Tyson Gay replaced him there, and ran a 2013 world’s best 9.86. Bolt’s best before Thursday was just 10.09, when he barely beat young training partner Kemar Bailey-Cole at the Cayman Invitational.

“For me, it’s just going through the season and putting things together for the World Championships,” Bolt added. “The season is still very early. I am not surprised.”

Meanwhile, Gatlin is undefeated in five races this season, and has run under 10-seconds four times if you count the wind-aided 9.88 he ran at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene last weekend.

“I have a different feel going into the season than I did last year…” Gatlin told the BBC earlier this week. “I want to go into this season with that same attitude but more calm, more collected. I want to be able to know who my opponents are and what they do and what they bring to the table.”

Vladimir Putin argues against tampered Sochi samples in latest doping denial

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. President Vladimir Putin says Russia will close its military base in Kyrgyzstan if the government of the Central Asian nation asks it to. Putin was speaking on Tuesday in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, as part of a Central Asian tour. (Alexei Nikolsky/Pool Photo via AP)
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In his latest denial of state-run doping, Vladimir Putin dismissed reports that tampering of Russian urine samples at the Sochi Olympics marked evidence of an organized doping program.

“Of course, and naturally enough, there is this issue of claims regarding scratches of some kind on some of the test samples,” the Russian president said Wednesday. “We do not understand what kind of evidence can we talk about because when we provided the test samples [to authorities] there were no complaints. If there was a problem with scratches of whatever kind, this should have been noted in the relevant reports, but there was nothing of this sort.

“In other words, these samples were stored somewhere, and we cannot be held responsible for the storage conditions.”

During the Sochi Olympics, doping samples of Russian athletes were opened and replaced with clean urine, according to a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned independent report headed by Dr. Richard McLaren last year.

McLaren’s reports said that scratches and marks were found on the sample bottles upon further examination two years after the Winter Games, but the marks were not visible until microscopic examination. The samples were taken from a laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, where they were stored after the Sochi Winter Games.

McLaren’s reports said the conspiracy involved the Russian Sports Ministry, national anti-doping agency and the FSB intelligence service, the current version of the Soviet Union’s KGB.

Putin has denied a state-run doping system in Russia in the months since the McLaren reports. On Dec. 23, he said such a program was “absolutely impossible,” while also saying the nation has a doping problem “like any other country.”

“Let me say again, and we said it repeatedly, that Russia has never had, and I hope never will have, a state system supporting doping,” Putin said Wednesday. “On the contrary, Russia will only combat doping.”

While denying, Putin added that Russia needed to heed the McLaren reports’ findings, “despite the shortcomings in its work.”

“We must pay heed to its work and its results, and to WADA’s demands, because we need to acknowledge that there are established and identified cases of doping here, and this is a totally unacceptable situation,” Putin said. “What this means is that our existing anti-doping monitoring system has not worked effectively, and this is our fault, and is something we need to admit and address directly.”

WADA said later Wednesday it was encouraged by Putin admitting that Russia’s anti-doping system failed, calling it a sign of progress.

Putin noted that Russia is putting a new anti-doping system into place.

“I hope that we will no longer have any swindlers, who organize doping programs themselves and then flee abroad,” Putin said, intimating whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, whose evidence of Sochi sample tampering was supported by the McLaren reports. “I hope that our independent specialists and foreign specialists will help us to develop a strict and effective anti-doping system.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Another Beijing Olympic medal stripped as total nears 50

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12:  Viktoriya Tereshchuk of Ukraine riding Walk This Way competes during the Riding Show Jumping in the Women's Modern Pentathlon on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 12, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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The tally of 2008 Olympic medals stripped moved closer to 50 after Ukraine modern pentathlete Victoria Tereshchuk lost her bronze for doping via retesting of her samples from the Beijing Games.

More than 80 athletes from the Beijing Olympics have been disqualified for doping, according to Olympic historians. More than 40 medals have been stripped.

Tereschchuk’s samples came back positive for the anabolic steroid turinabol, a common substance found in retesting that has led to stripped medals.

The fourth-place finisher in the 2008 Olympic modern pentathlon, Anastasiya Samusevich of Belarus, is in line to be upgraded to bronze.

The list of stripped 2008 Olympic medals is wide-ranging, in sports including cycling, track and field, weightlifting and wrestling. The athletes have primarily come from Russia and Eastern Europe.

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