Going by times the last two years, Justin Gatlin ought to be a heavy favorite over Usain Bolt in the World Championships 100m final in Beijing.
“He’s been doing his thing,” Bolt said of Gatlin to NBC on Thursday. “I can’t complain because if you train to be the best, then it is what it is. … It’s my duty to prove that I can be better.”
But even the confident Gatlin cautions those who are sure that Bolt is set to suffer his first global championship 100m defeat Sunday (not counting the 2011 Worlds false start).
This year, Gatlin has repeatedly noted the case of 2012, when Bolt was beaten in the Jamaican Olympic trials and entered the London Olympics vincible.
Bolt revved up in the 2012 Olympic semifinals, clocking a casual 9.87 while swerving his head to look at other lanes halfway through the race. Later that night, Bolt ran the second fastest 100m of all time, 9.63, to repeat as Olympic champion.
“Usain woke up in the semifinals in London in 2012,” Gatlin said, according to Agence France-Presse. “I predict [he’ll be planning to do] the same thing for Beijing.”
“I haven’t gotten a lot of races in [this year], but I think running through the rounds [heat, semifinal, final in Beijing], I’ll get going,” Bolt told media in Beijing on Thursday. “I think I have to run probably the first 50 [meters] quick, to really get my body into running up to speed. So I’ll be all right. I’m not worried.”
Bolt, who turns 29 on Friday, has spent more time being checked out by a German doctor than racing on the track since the start of 2013. He ran 400 meters total in competition last year, a season cut short due to foot surgery that March.
He went more than a month between competitions early this summer, citing a left leg injury that required him to visit Munich again.
Bolt silenced some of the growing doubters in his return July 24, when he clocked 9.87 seconds twice in a little over an hour at the London Olympic Stadium.
“It shows that I still have speed,” Bolt told NBC in Beijing. “The only problem that I have is the fact that I didn’t get to run more to get that race rustiness out.”
London marked his only meet since June 13, when he ran his slowest 200m final since 2006, two years before he burst onto the scene by breaking the 100m world record.
Bolt said what he does during the season pales in comparison to global championships like the Olympics or Worlds.
“When I get here, I always feel a different vibe, especially when I get into the stadium, the energy,” Bolt told NBC. “I just transform.”
So his goal at the World Championships next week remains the same.
“Win three gold medals [100m, 200m, 4x100m relay], that’s always my aim coming into a championship [Worlds or Olympics],” Bolt said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday. “To break the stadium record [Bolt’s then-world record 9.69 in the 100m at the Beijing Olympics] would even be better.”
Stats say Gatlin, who is 33 years old and five years removed from a four-year doping ban, has a better chance of beating that time.
Gatlin, running faster than ever, has clocked 9.80 or better six times since the start of 2013 and is undefeated in that span. Nobody else in the world has done 9.80 or better once since September 2013.
“I never really look at statistics because it’s track and field, you never know what’s going to happen, really,” Bolt told media in Beijing on Thursday.
The Bolt-Gatlin showdown will be their first head to head since 2013, which is partly why Bolt said he doesn’t feel like he’s chasing Gatlin.
“I wasn’t there competing against him, but now I’m here,” Bolt said.
The showdown is being billed by many as good versus evil.
Bolt, who has run .11 faster than anybody in history, has never failed a drug test. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion and 2012 bronze medalist, is criticized by many who wish he received a lifetime doping ban for a failed drug test in 2006.
“People [say] that I need to win for the sport,” Bolt told media in Beijing. “There’s a lot of other athletes out there that are running clean. … It’s not only just on me, because I can’t do it by myself.”