NEW YORK — When Justin Gatlin mentions the World Championships in Beijing from two months ago, he still speaks in a sentimental tone.
There is the lingering hurt from being beaten by Usain Bolt in the 100m final. Gatlin, who later broke down in tears in the Bird’s Nest on Aug. 23, has watched replays.
“Toughest loss I’ve taken in my career because I feel like I let myself down,” Gatlin said in a Manhattan hotel lobby Thursday morning, more or less repeating his initial reaction from Aug. 23, and then pausing before adding context. “It wasn’t about getting beat by Usain. It wasn’t about being one of the slowest times I ran of the season. It was about, that at the end of the day, I didn’t perform 100 percent in the race and during the race while I was competing. I didn’t do what I was doing all season long. I veered away from what my strategy was, especially the last 20 meters. That’s something that I regret going into this season.”
There is also the residue of the scrutiny on Gatlin’s character from that meet.
He is five years removed from a four-year doping ban and is given the cold shoulder, or worse, by many in the sport. New IAAF president Seb Coe said last year he had “big problems” with Gatlin being eligible for an Athlete of the Year award (rules have changed, and serious doping offenders are no longer eligible for IAAF awards).
“I keep my head down and keep running,” Gatlin said.
Some of the most enduring images of Gatlin from Worlds were of him sitting next to and joking with Bolt after their 200m final and at a later press conference. Or of his face while on the podium at the 100m medal ceremony, when he called out a spectator for verbally harassing his mother.
“Beijing was more of a coming-out party for my human side,” he said. “I think people realize that I have been on a long journey. I have weathered a really big storm. Throughout the whole time, I have not lost my human side.”
That doesn’t change Gatlin’s mistakes. He said he’s been drug tested about 70 times this year, a majority at his Florida home with blood and urine tests.
“From day one, it’s fine with me,” Gatlin said. “Nothing to hide. Nothing to run from. So I’m happy with how many times I’m getting tested, hope that my supporters are comfortable with it and the critics as well. I want them to know that the system is working.”
Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion, cycled through coaches and training partners when his suspension was up in 2010. About four years ago, he began working in the Orlando area under coach Dennis Mitchell, a three-time Olympian who also served a doping ban.
Mitchell’s stable of sprinters includes Isiah Young, a 25-year-old who finished second to the 33-year-old Gatlin in the 200m at the U.S. Championships in June. They share a passion.
“People ask me what would I do if I wasn’t a track and field runner, it would be two things,” Gatlin said. “I would try to work in special ops, and I would be a [pro] wrestler. [Young] is a huge fan of wrestling, way bigger than I am.”
Gatlin said he and Young attended a WWE card in Orlando in April — “our first real bonding experience” — and they each bought replica championship belts from a souvenir stand for about $30.
The belts were on the line this past season at Mitchell’s practices, with Gatlin and Young exchanging titles based on who performed better in various drills.
“Try to bring a little spice,” to practices, Gatlin said. “It’ll be maybe two weeks when I have his belt for the whole time, and he’ll get the belt back, and then he has to get my belt.”
One thing Gatlin takes with him around the world is his son’s first sports medal. Jace was born three months before Gatlin’s doping ban ended in 2010.
“He doesn’t care about the medal,” Gatlin said in a beIN Sport profile this summer. “He cares about the candy that comes with the medal.”
In 2010, Gatlin sat on a bench next to the Georgia Tech track in Atlanta, days before his first competition in four years, and explained the meaning behind his 11th and most recent tattoo — a four-leaf clover on his right wrist.
“I needed some luck,” he said.
Gatlin added two tattoos since — the words “Logos Ethos Pathos” in cursive across his upper chest, signifying man’s foundations, he said, and a tiger’s face on his left bicep.
“A representation of my hungry animal coming out,” Gatlin said.
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