EUGENE, Ore. — Justin Gatlin says there’s more left in the tank for Rio. He will need it if Usain Bolt, after recovering from his hamstring injury, is the Bolt of 2015.
As expected, Gatlin won the 100m at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday afternoon. He is now the world’s fastest man for 2016, but he is also slower than his torrid pace from 2015.
“I think there’s more there,” Gatlin said.
In the final, Gatlin clocked 9.80 seconds with a significant tailwind — 1.6 meters per second.
He became the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic team in a sprint event (100m, 200m or 400m) since 1912.
Gatlin will be joined in Rio by Trayvon Bromell, the 2015 World Championships co-bronze medalist racing at his first meet since suffering a grade-one Achilles tear one month ago.
Bromell clocked 9.84 seconds for second place Sunday, matching his personal best to become, at age 20, the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s 100m runner since 1984.
Marvin Bracy, who passed up playing football for Florida State to pursue a professional track career in 2013, took third in 9.98 seconds.
Several other stars made the Olympic team Sunday. Allyson Felix fought through an ankle injury to win the 400m, halfway to her planned Olympic 200m-400m double. Ashton Eaton prevailed in the decathlon, also while not 100 percent. Vashti Cunningham became the youngest U.S. track and field Olympian in 36 years. English Gardner, Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie provided the fastest women’s 100m podium of all time, all sub-10.80 seconds.
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But the sport’s marquee event is the men’s 100m. And Bolt-Gatlin is the premier (and one-sided) rivalry.
If Gatlin proved anything Sunday, it’s that he is still the world’s top challenger to Bolt. There were doubts coming into this meet, as his best time this year was 9.93 seconds (fifth in the world).
The last two days, Gatlin ran 10.03 in the first round, 9.83 in the semifinals and then the 9.80 final. He now owns the two fastest times in the world this year, though slower than his 9.74 and 9.75 from spring 2015.
“Last year was all about time and running fast and being consistent,” said Gatlin, who suffered a significant ankle injury in the offseason. “This year is about rising to the occasion, rising to the moment.”
And it is unknown how Gatlin will handle the moment in Rio next month. In 2015, Gatlin went to the world championships favored to beat Bolt on the strength of those spring times and injuries to the Jamaican legend the previous year. Many rooted against him, because Gatlin was five years removed from a four-year doping ban and because of the universal admiration for Bolt.
Gatlin led the 100m final until the last few strides. Bolt closed the gap two lanes to his left, and Gatlin made what Michael Johnson called “a Bolt-forced error,” stumbling slightly, flailing his arms and unfurling his usually crisp form.
Bolt won in 9.79. Gatlin was second in 9.80, into a slight headwind.
On Sunday, Gatlin again ran 9.80, but with that tailwind and no late breakdown. NBC Olympics analyst Ato Boldon said that won’t cut it in Rio.
“You can think, oh, Bolt’s not 100 percent this year, and maybe it won’t take 9.6 to win this time, I think you do that at your peril,” Boldon told the House of Run podcast Sunday evening. “Unless you’re going to Rio with designs on running better than 9.70 or thereabouts, the medal you go home with is not going to be gold.”
Gatlin had little intention of getting caught up in Bolt talk Sunday evening. On the Hayward Field track, Lewis Johnson asked Gatlin about having to go through the Jamaican in Rio.
“First of all, I’ve got to face these young bucks right here,” Gatlin responded, standing next to Bromell and Bracy.
Later in the mixed zone, Gatlin was asked if he had any words for Usain. There were none, only a thumbs-up.
Gatlin said his last race before the Olympics will be the 200m here later this week. The next time he races the 100m, it will be in Rio, where Bolt may again be standing a lane or two away.
How does Gatlin plan to change the outcome from last summer?
“Don’t get greedy,” he said Saturday. “If I get greedy … you’re reaching for something that’s not there. You’re reaching for more. Once you’re up there trying to get it, you’re going to fall down.”
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