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Justin Gatlin reflects on career in ‘Rise Again’ documentary

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The heaving, uncontrollable sobs have occurred twice for Justin Gatlin. Once, for a failed drug test in his prime that led to a stay in track’s version of purgatory. The other, over a .01-second slipup that he’ll never get over.

Say this much for the controversial sprinter: His life has certainly been filled with peaks and valleys, which he reveals in an hour-long documentary titled “Rise Again — The Justin Gatlin Story.”

Gatlin reflects on his ascent to the top, a fall from grace after a 2006 doping ban that left him so depressed he contemplated wrapping his car around a tree and a return to the spotlight to become Usain Bolt‘s biggest adversary. Not to mention a race Gatlin would give anything to have back — the 100m at world championships in 2015, when he leaned too soon and Bolt beat him by .01 seconds.

“Life is fun. And it’s beautiful. But it’s cold. Cutthroat. Nasty,” Gatlin said in the opening sequence of a movie produced by Andrew Brereton and screened Thursday in Gatlin’s hometown of Pensacola, Florida. “I’ve witnessed both.”

Gatlin’s purpose in making the film was simple: Show fans and detractors what makes him tick.

“It’s a window into that kind of realm that no one has ever seen,” the 35-year-old Gatlin said in a phone interview. “A way for me to get that rawness out there.”

Following two gold medals at the 2005 world championships, Gatlin tested positive for excessive testosterone at the Kansas Relays in 2006. His dad signed for the certified letter from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and called his son.

The father simply comforted him.

After a long stretch of arbitration and court hearings, Gatlin received an eight-year ban that was later reduced to four.

During his exile, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion went through a wide range of emotions, including thoughts of suicide. He struggled to find work (he tried out for several NFL teams). He collected unemployment. His weight even ballooned so much that when he did return, he was kiddingly called “Dough Boy.”

“At the top, I was flying high. I didn’t understand what it meant to be down and out,” Gatlin said in the film. “What I went through in those four years, it makes me, in a way, a poster child. I’ve been to the top, to eat filet mignon, to have sweets, traveling around the world, having everything at your fingertips, to being embarrassed just to walk around in society.”

That’s exactly the emotion Brereton wanted to capture.

Brereton and his company, Neomotion Films, traveled around with Gatlin, shooting more than 80 hours of footage. The crew interviewed Gatlin’s parents, a string of coaches from over the years, agent/renown hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, friends and family members.

The film producer was initially drawn to Gatlin’s story because usually when convicted dopers serve a lengthy ban, they don’t come back. If they do, they’re rarely faster than what they were. Before his ban, Gatlin tied a then 100m world record of 9.77 seconds, a run that came weeks after his positive test and has since been erased.

In 2015, Gatlin went 9.74.

“That throws a bigger monkey wrench into the situation, because people don’t know how to react,” Brereton said. “Their first reaction is like, ‘OK, something’s not right. He already has the history. I don’t believe it.’ But I always say, ‘Why don’t you believe?’

“They say, ‘Because it’s never been done before.’ I say, ‘So that means it can’t be done?’ … Track is interesting like that.”

Some of the movie’s intriguing scenes:

— As a kid, Gatlin used to outrace his friends — him on foot, them on bikes.

— His first love was hurdles in high school. He was so fast that one time in a 300m hurdles race, he opened up a big lead, saw a teammate fall down, went back to help him up and still went on to win the competition.

— Gatlin talked to kids all over the country about anti-doping on his return to track from his ban. “Some say he didn’t apologize?” Nehemiah said. “That was his apology tour — to all these kids that looked up to him.”

— At the starting line in races after returning from his ban, Gatlin said: “People saw me, and the look in their eyes was like they saw a ghost.”

The race that haunts him is that 100 showdown with Bolt in ’15. Gatlin thought that was his moment in Beijing, his race to win.

It wasn’t. He broke into tears on the ride back to his hotel.

“I could’ve run that race, that sloppy race, anywhere else in the world and still won,” said Gatlin, who captured Olympic bronze at the 2012 London Games and silver four years later in Rio de Janeiro. “I allowed myself to get beat and I beat myself. That’s the worst feeling in the world.”

Throughout the movie, Gatlin kept his composure. This, though, brought him to tears: Talking about his young son.

“In kindergarten, he’s drawing pictures of me on top of podiums, with medals on,” Gatlin said. “He loves me for me. He’s so proud of me. … It’s way better than being on top of 100 podiums.

“Way better.”

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Ragan Smith, after watching in Rio, leads P&G Championships

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Ragan Smith could do nothing more than watch in Rio as the Final Five dominated. The roles reversed at the P&G Championships on Friday night.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate, easily topped the all-around standings on the first of two nights of competition that will determine national champions.

Oh, and Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez were among those in the Honda Center crowd in Anaheim.

It’s the beginning of a new era for U.S. women’s gymnastics. None of the Rio Olympians are competing this weekend, but all five could come back for a Tokyo 2020 run.

For now, the spotlight is on Smith.

“It’s kind of nice, like, having a new generation coming up,” Smith, who is coached by 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal Burdette, said on NBCSN. “I think it’s a little less pressure, but I still kind of feel like it’s the same because I had no idea what was going to happen last year.”

The 17-year-old Texan leads by 1.3 points over Riley McCusker going into the final day Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Full scores are here. A four-woman team for October’s world championships will be named after a camp later this summer.

Smith overcame minor flaws on her first routine — uneven bars — and more significant ones on her next — balance beam. A solid floor exercise and vault gave her a first-day lead six tenths shy of Biles’ average margin from 2013 through 2016.

The second- and third-highest scores Friday actually came from the earlier junior division. With no team event at this year’s worlds, senior depth is less necessary.

Smith, after just missing the Rio Olympic team in her first year as a senior gymnast, won the AT&T American Cup on March 4 despite a beam fall. That made her the favorite this week.

The rest of the field — with no Olympians for the first time since 2008 — could not keep pace Friday. Smith’s top challengers coming in were McCusker and Morgan Hurd.

McCusker, who shares a coach with Hernandez, reeled back some difficulty. She was on crutches with a cast on her wrist in early July.

Hurd, a first-year senior who competes in glasses, took two out-of-bounds steps and sat down on back-to-back floor exercise passes.

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P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
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Simone Biles says she’s back in the gym (video)

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Simone Biles is back in the gym.

In between giggles, Biles said she returned to the gym two weeks ago in an NBCSN interview at the P&G Championships in Anaheim on Friday night.

“I actually started, like, two Fridays ago,” Biles said. “I’m weak. But I’m coming back. I’m just doing conditioning and basics right now.”

Biles last competed at the Rio Olympics, winning five medals, including four golds, for the greatest single-Games medal haul by a female gymnast in nearly three decades. That came after Biles swept every U.S. and world all-around title in that four-year Olympic cycle.

The 20-year-old said late last year and early this year that she planned to return to training in late 2017 or early 2018 with an eye on Tokyo 2020.

“It’s OK to sit out one [year],” Biles said. “I can’t imagine being out on the floor now.”

Biles has not set a return to competition. Her longtime coach, Aimee Boorman, moved from Texas to Florida after Rio.

If Biles makes the Tokyo 2020 team, she can attempt to become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion since the late Czech Věra Čáslavská in 1964 and 1968.

Gabby Douglas attempted this feat in Rio but did not qualify for the all-around final.

Douglas said earlier this month that she has not decided whether she will return to competition.

Aly Raisman said in September that she plans to return to training after taking 2017 off. Laurie Hernandez said she hopes to go for 2020 but has not set a return to training.

Madison Kocian is the lone member of the Olympic team who has competed since Rio, but it wasn’t on the elite stage. The Texan did a full freshman season for UCLA with a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff in her shoulder.

Kocian said in June that she has not decided if she will return to elite gymnastics.

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P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates