Justin Gatlin hopes to race the 100m and the 200m at the 2015 World Championships, setting his sights on becoming the second-fastest American ever in the 200m following an undefeated 2014.
“Possibly run 19.4 [seconds in the 200m],” Gatlin said in a phone interview Tuesday. “[The 100m] is my first focus. Then prepare myself to run 200s after that.”
Michael Johnson holds the American 200m record of 19.32 set in the 1996 Olympic final. If Gatlin can better 19.50, he would pass two-time 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Walter Dix as the fourth-fastest all time in the event and second among Americans.
Usain Bolt has the world record, 19.19, and Yohan Blake has run 19.26.
Gatlin’s confidence is understandable after he won all of his races this season — though Bolt and Blake missed much of the campaign due to injury.
The 2004 Olympic 100m champion clocked a personal-best 100m (9.77) at age 32, matching his then-world record time from 2006 that was wiped out due to his four-year doping ban that lasted to 2010.
He also ran his fastest-ever 200m, a 19.68 in Monaco on July 18. Bolt ran 19.66 to win at the 2013 World Championships, where Gatlin only contested the 100m.
Gatlin was most proud of his effort in Brussels on Sept. 5, though. That’s where he posted that 9.77 over 100m and then won a 200m in 19.71 an hour later, the fastest single-day sprint double in history.
“I went into the season preparing for a good, challenging season, and I came out dominant,” Gatlin said. “It’s a preview going into next season. Me and my coach wanted to put together a blueprint to be successful the next three years [through the Rio 2016 Olympics].”
In Rio, Gatlin could become the oldest man to stand on an Olympic 100m or 200m podium by two years (Linford Christie won the 1992 Olympic 100m at 32).
‘A lot of people, I guess, want to count me out, but I think with my age and my wisdom, being away from the track for a while has brought me fresh legs,” Gatlin said, likening his age in track years to 26 or 27. “I’m still 32, but I love how my body feels.”
Gatlin did fail to check off one goal this season — the American record in the 100m. He’s still .08 off Tyson Gay‘s mark from 2009. Gay returned from a doping suspension in July. Gatlin said he and Gay did not speak at length this summer.
“We’re just competitors,” Gatlin said. “No ill-will against him.”
Gatlin did take notice of Bolt’s comments earlier this month. Bolt said he didn’t think he would have beaten Gatlin this year, given the Jamaican’s injury and Gatlin’s form. Bolt and Gatlin haven’t raced against each other since September 2013. Gatlin beat Bolt once in June 2013.
“I have respect for him, and I’m glad that he could show respect for me,” said Gatlin, who said he partied with Bolt after their last meet together in Brussels last year. “I’m a guy who’s not scared of him. He knows that.”
Gatlin said Bolt showed his human side this season, being set back by foot surgery and held to two relay legs and two low-key 100m races.
“When you’re dominating [like Bolt], it’s a lot of wear and tear on your body,” he said. “It’s day-in and day-out that you have to be on top. That’s more punishing that just losing.”
Like Bolt, Gatlin has taken to a signature pre- and post-race move, firing an imaginary gun with his fingers. The first three letters of his last name is slang for a gun. Friends call him, “Gatlin Guns.”
“I look at myself as a gunslinger,” Gatlin said. “You can’t win every race, but I’m coming out shooting.”
Gatlin was also motivated this season by meets that refuse to invite athletes who have served lengthy suspensions.
“The one thing about this sport that I’ve learned is people say whatever they want to say behind your back or to the media, but when it’s time to talk to you or acknowledge something, they forget that it happened,” Gatlin said, mentioning a meet promoter from a Zurich competition, which did not invite him due a bylaw outlawing athletes with lengthy bans, according to The Associated Press. Gatlin said he also sat at a dinner table with that promoter.
Gatlin told the AP in August, “I look at myself as the ‘Batman’ of track — a vigilante. You may not like me, but I’m needed.”
“This year, I really wanted to show them that your meet really lacks luster without me involved,” Gatlin said Tuesday. “Usain Bolt’s not the only headliner that’s out there, that brings excitement to races.”
Gatlin’s perfect season and checkered past make his candidacy for season awards an interesting case. Asked who he would vote for as the top U.S. and global men’s track and field athletes this year, he said, “I guess it would be kind of cliché to vote for myself, huh.”
So Gatlin instead tipped his cap to LaShawn Merritt, the Diamond League 400m champion, and Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim, who became the No. 2 high jumper of all time this year.