Justin Gatlin

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Justin Gatlin, with Usain Bolt gone, shows the kids he’s still spry

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sometimes after a particularly grueling workout, sprinter Justin Gatlin will turn to his younger training partners and inquire: “Are you sore, too?”

It’s just an age check. He doesn’t feel 37 except on rare occasions. Like at big races when he sees so much youth on the starting line and not the familiar faces from years gone by.

Missing, of course, is his biggest rival, Usain Bolt, the Jamaican standout who rewrote the record book before saying goodbye to track nearly two years ago.

Arriving on the scene, a slew of 20-somethings such as Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles who present another challenge for Gatlin, the defending 100m world champion.

“I don’t think about age. I don’t think about being old,” said Gatlin, who will compete in the 100m at the U.S. championships this week in Des Moines, Iowa. “I just feel like a time traveler in a way. I’m still here, still running, still putting down good times, still training really well. Just staying focused on what the goal is.”

And that goal is to show the kids he’s still young at heart. At a Diamond League race in Monaco on July 12 , Gatlin won the 100 in 9.91 seconds, holding off Lyles by 0.01 seconds.

“These young athletes, they make me feel young,” said Gatlin , who doesn’t consider the Tokyo Olympics next summer his finish line as he contemplates racing through the 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Ore. “They’re running super-fast times that I ran before so it gives me a target. It gives me a sounding board to know where I have to be and how I’m going to have to compete.”

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Throughout his career, Gatlin has been a polarizing figure. With his doping past — his four-year suspension ended in 2010 — Gatlin’s been booed (like the night he beat Bolt for gold at the ’17 World Championships in London) and hounded (he gestured toward a heckler bothering his mom in the stands during the medal ceremony at the ’15 Worlds in Beijing). He’s never let it bother him.

Instead, he lets his performances do most of his talking.

“I’m an enigma,” Gatlin said. “I’ve had my dark times and I’ve gone through an area where normally someone who’s been away from the sport or had a ban would never come back from. … I defied those odds to a point where I think that it made people uncomfortable because not only did I come back, but I came back better.”

He said the younger generation doesn’t judge him. An up-and-coming sprinter once joked with Gatlin that he happened to be in first grade when Gatlin won the 100m title at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“Those kinds of things always shock me, how time really works. But it still doesn’t make me feel old,” said Gatlin, whose best 100m time is 9.74 seconds in Doha on May 15, 2015. “I’ve gained so many more followers just off of the respect of me working hard, me climbing, keep fighting for it no matter my age, no matter how many times I lost to Usain. It was all about staying the course, which was my course, and not veering from and trying to be something that everyone wanted me to be. I just wanted to be Justin.”

Gatlin surprised the track world at worlds in ’17 by beating Bolt in Bolt’s final major 100 race. Gatlin also edged Coleman, who came in second that night with Bolt taking third.

Not having Bolt at the world championships this fall in Doha remains hard to fathom for Gatlin. They’ve had so many epic races over the years, like at worlds in ’15 when Bolt eclipsed Gatlin at the line.

But this thought keeps Gatlin working: The next Bolt is out there. It could be Lyles. Or Coleman. It could be Andre De Grasse of Canada or Matthew Boling, the teen from Texas who is headed to Georgia for college and who became a viral sensation this spring when he ran a wind-aided 9.98 in the 100m (Bolt’s world record is 9.58).

It could be anyone.

“Track and field is a beautiful, beautiful novel with many, many unique chapters,” Gatlin said. “I’m excited about what’s going to come after and how it’s going to be unique and maybe bigger and better than a Usain Bolt.”

At nationals this week, Gatlin’s plan is modest. He will run a round of the 100m — he already has an automatic spot to worlds — and see how he feels. If he feels good, he may chase after the title. If not, he won’t. Gatlin is planning to skip the 200m as he tries to get his hips and hamstrings feeling 100 percent.

To keep his legs fresh at 37, Gatlin has learned to take rest days. To keep his mind fresh at 37, he works out with younger training partners who bring new energy and ideas.

“That,” Gatlin said, “is really what keeps me young.”

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Justin Gatlin edges Noah Lyles, Sifan Hassan sets World Record

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Five-time Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin took first place in the anticipated 100m race against U.S. track & field champion Noah Lyles at Friday’s Diamond League meet in Monaco.

Gatlin defended his title despite a rough start and clocked in 9.91, runner-up Noah Lyles came only one hundredth of a second behind with 9.92.

“I had to put down the pedal to the metal and cross the line first” said Gatlin after the race.

Despite placing second, Lyles didn’t seem too disappointed and seems ready for another chance to challenge Gatlin.

“I can just change a few things around, and that can be quick” says Lyles

Mike Rodgers came in third place, which gave the U.S. the top three spots on the podium.

In other events:

Two-time Olympic medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo continues her undefeated streak by winning the 200m in 22.09. Elaine Thompson came in second place.

Sydney McLaughlin dominated in the 400m hurdles taking her second win on the road with a time of 53.32. Ashley Spencer finished in second place with a time of 54.46.

Sifan Hassan became the world’s fastest woman in the 1500m by setting a World Record in the event with a time of 4:12.33. It’s the fastest time that’s been posted in the 1500m since Svetlana Masterkova’s personal-best time of 4:12.56 set in 1996.

Noah Lyles meets Justin Gatlin, fate in Monaco; TV, stream schedule

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Noah Lyles‘ immediate future in the 100m could ride on what happens in Monaco on Friday.

Lyles and world champion Justin Gatlin headline a Diamond League meet, two weeks before each is to appear at the USATF Outdoor Championships. Monaco streaming starts at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold, with TV coverage at 2 p.m. on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Lyles, 21 and the world’s top 200m sprinter, will reportedly decide after the meet whether to enter both the 100m and the 200m or simply the latter at nationals, the qualifying meet for the world championships in Doha in late September/early October.

Lyles, who just missed the 2016 Olympic team out of high school and could not compete at 2017 Worlds due to injury, has long said he will focus on strictly the 200m at nationals and worlds.

“Until I see something in the 100m that is very definitive of, I can walk away with a [world championships 100m] medal and still be able to get away with a gold in the 200m, it’s going to be the 200m in Doha right now,” Lyles said last month.

The 100m final at worlds is Sept. 28. The 200m starts with heats Sept. 29.

Lyles ranks second in the world this year in the 100m behind world championships favorite Christian Coleman (who is not in Monaco). He is fastest in the world this year in the 200m by a comfortable two tenths of a second. And the world’s second-fastest 200m sprinter, Michael Norman, is expected to sit out the event in favor of the 400m.

Still, Lyles speaks like a man who has never competed at a global championship.

“The Gold isn’t mine till I physically hold it my hands,” Lyles tweeted after clocking that 19.50 on Friday, making him the fourth-fastest man in history behind Usain BoltYohan Blake and Michael Johnson. It was in response to NBC Sports analyst Ato Boldon suggesting Lyles should double in the 100m and 200m as he is already expected to take the 200m crown.

Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Thursday
1 p.m. — Women’s Triple Jump

Friday
1:30 p.m. — Men’s Javelin
1:35 — Men’s Pole Vault
2 — Women’s High Jump
2:03 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
2:15 — Women’s 800m
2:25 — Men’s 400m
2:35 — Men’s 1500m
2:40 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:50 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
3 — Men’s 800m
3:10 — Women’s 200m
3:20 — Women’s Mile
3:35 — Men’s 100m
3:45 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 400m Hurdles — 2:03 p.m. ET
Sydney McLaughlin, the 19-year-old hurdles wunderkind, puts her two-year win streak on the line against the last two world champions (countrywoman Kori Carter and Czech Zuzana Hejnová) and Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer. McLaughlin won her Diamond League 400m hurdles debut in Oslo on June 13 despite hitting the first hurdle. Here she can take aim at the fastest time in the world this year, a 53.61 set by Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad, who is not in the Monaco field.

Men’s 1500m — 2:25 p.m. ET
Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot has strengthened his grip on this event in recent weeks. The world silver medalist won the Pre Classic mile and then clocked the world’s fastest 1500m in nearly a year in Lausanne last Friday. Challengers include 18-year-old Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who clocked the second-fastest time in the world this year in taking runner-up to Cheruiyot in Lausanne. Monaco has produced the fastest 1500m time in the world in six of the last seven years.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:40 p.m. ET
Will Claye, silver medalist at the last two Olympics, spiced up the triple jump by leaping 18.14 meters on Jun 29 to join the 18 club and become No. 3 all-time in the event behind 2000 Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards and 2012 and 2016 gold medalist Christian Taylor. Taylor is in the Monaco field. As is the No. 3 active triple jumper, Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo.

Women’s 200m — 3:10 p.m. ET
Olympic 200m champion Elaine Thompson takes on Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo for the first time since April 2018. Thompson is fastest in the world this year at 22.00, while Miller-Uibo has clocked 21.88 back in 2017. This is the Bahamian Miller-Uibo’s first 200m of this season. She’s already the 2019 world leader in the 400m. But the 200m and 400m overlap at worlds, which forces Miller-Uibo to pick one event in Doha.

Men’s 100m — 3:35 p.m. ET
Lyles and Gatlin face off for just the second time. The first was in the 200m at the 2016 Olympic trials, where Gatlin won and Lyles finished fourth, just missing making the Olympic team at 18 years old. Two of the other top U.S. men, Mike Rodgers and Craven Gillespie, are in this field. As is Nigerian Divine Oduduru, the NCAA champion from Texas Tech.

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