Justin Gatlin didn’t lack confidence at his first meet of the season Saturday.
“This year is all about medals. I want to win when it counts,” Gatlin said at the Texas Relays, according to The Associated Press. “I’d say I’m the guy to beat right now.”
Would Usain Bolt agree?
Gatlin, who debuted in a relay at the Texas meet, has not raced Bolt since September 2013. In August 2013, Bolt won the World Championships 100m final, 9.77 seconds to Gatlin’s 9.85.
In 2014, Gatlin posted five of the six fastest 100m times, including a best of 9.77. Bolt ran a total of 400 meters in competition for the year, half in relays, and cut his campaign short due to March foot surgery.
Yohan Blake, the 2012 Olympic 100m and 200m silver medalist behind Bolt, said in January, “You could say he’s [Gatlin] the man.”
Bolt said in August that he didn’t think he would have beaten Gatlin if they raced against each other last year.
Asked of Gatlin again in February, Bolt chuckled softly and chose his words carefully. Bolt has said he’s in favor of lifetime bans for athletes who purposely cheat. Gatlin is five years removed from a four-year doping ban.
“I try to be a nice person here, not say anything rude,” Bolt said in February, pausing to continue his thought. “He did well last season. So that’s good.”
Gatlin recently made headlines by re-signing with Nike, which had dropped him after his initial drug ban in 2006.
This season, Gatlin, 33, hopes to become the oldest man to win an Olympic or World Championships 100m. He’s not expected to go head-to-head with Bolt before then, though Bolt will race individually in the U.S. for the first time in seven years.
Domestically, Gatlin’s biggest threat may be a man he hugged at the Texas Relays on Saturday. That’s Baylor sophomore Trayvon Bromell, the World junior 100m champion in a junior record 9.97 seconds last June. Bromell is 14 years younger and four inches shorter than Gatlin.
Only Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers ran faster than Bromell last year, among Americans.
“The sky’s the limit,” Gatlin said of Bromell, according to The Associated Press. “Some people question his height and his size, but he’s able to use his body to his advantage. [Last year] was a year when short striders were the fastest sprinters. It hasn’t hurt anybody else.”
Bromell, who ran a wind-aided 9.90 on Saturday, also impressed Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles.
Charles, a former NCAA Championships 100m finalist for the University of Texas, introduced himself to Bromell, but Bromell did not recognize him, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
“I knew it had to be a football player,” Bromell said, according to the report. “He looks like a football player. But I only study track.”
*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin last raced at the 2013 World Championships. They last raced at a Diamond League meet in Brussels in September 2013.