Justin Gatlin: I’m still the man to beat at U.S. Championships

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Justin Gatlin believes he remains the nation’s preeminent 100m sprinter, despite an injury-plagued early season followed by slow times in spring meets.

“I would consider myself the man to beat,” at the U.S. Championships in three weeks, Gatlin said Tuesday, according to Reuters. “When it comes to trials and nationals, I usually step up and am the dominant sprinter.”

Gatlin, 35, is tied for 13th in the U.S. 100m rankings this year with a top wind-legal time of 10.14 seconds. Each of the previous five years, he had run 9.91 or faster by June 1. Gatlin took silver behind Usain Bolt at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and the 2016 Olympics.

But Gatlin has said injuries slowed him this spring — ankle, calf, quadriceps, groin — forcing him to miss chunks of training in March and April, according to Reuters. Gatlin’s agent and his coach have said the 200m is no longer part of his program.

“This season is going to test my fortitude mentally and physically probably more than any other season,” said Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion who came back from a four-year doping ban in 2010.

Gatlin finished fifth in the Pre Classic 100m in a wind-aided 9.97 seconds on Saturday, but only one of the top four was an American (winner Ronnie Baker). Gatlin was the top American in his previous Diamond League 100m, bettering Baker in a fourth-place finish in Doha on May 5.

Gatlin would become the second-oldest American to race the 100m at an Olympics or world championships should he finish in the top three at the U.S. Championships and then compete at worlds in London in August.

The oldest is Gail Devers, the 1992 and 1996 Olympic women’s 100m champion who raced at the 2004 Athens Games at age 37.

At nationals, Gatlin’s biggest threats appear to be Baker and University of Tennessee sprinter Christian Coleman, the only U.S. men to break 10 seconds (wind legal) this year.

His top domestic rivals in recent years — Tyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell — have been absent from international competition since the Rio Olympics.

Gay, the 2007 World 100m champion, hasn’t raced outside of Florida this year. Bromell, a 2015 World 100m co-bronze medalist, hasn’t raced at all since Rio and is coming back from Achilles surgery.

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