The clock is ticking on Justin Gatlin and not just the stopwatch. The world champion will be 37 years old when he defends his 100 metres title in Doha next September. Yet there is a renewed sense of confidence from the American that he will be on the 100m podium for a fourth consecutive world championship and a fifth time in his career.
“I think I am the man when it comes to the moment,” Gatlin, who won 100m world titles in 2005 and 2017, told Reuters via telephone from his Florida training base.
“So when the moment arrives, I think if I am prepared for it, I would bet on myself.”
Although there are an abundance of young, fast sprinters, including fellow Americans Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles and Ronnie Baker, Gatlin still believes experience will work in his favour.
“I think that my experience will be able to help me a little more than my other opponents,” he said.
As well as his world titles, Gatlin claimed 100m silver medals in 2013 and 2015 and could perhaps have won more had he not missed the 2007 and 2009 world championships while serving a four-year doping ban.
Television analyst Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic sprint medallist, also believes Gatlin could finish on the podium.
“I wouldn’t doubt Gatlin because of how good a competitor he is,” Boldon told Reuters. “He rarely ever makes a mistake in a final.”
In some ways, Gatlin is like five-times Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, Boldon said.
“Brady is 40 something but he can still make all the throws because his technique has not deteriorated. Gatlin has a lot of Brady in him in that, yeah there are some things that physically I can’t do, but my mind is so sharp and I am such a master at what I do, that I am going to beat six or seven guys in every race because I am not going to make any mistakes.”
Yet age cannot be ignored.
“At 37, I don’t think he is going to be a 9.7 (seconds) sprinter anymore,” Boldon said. “But if the other guys can’t perform, they are going to leave the door open for him to be a factor.”
After all, Gatlin needed just 9.92 seconds to win in 2017.
To prepare for what he says will be his final two years of sprinting, Gatlin has changed coaches from Brooks Johnson to Gary Evans and surrounded himself with young talents, including 23-year-old Bahamian Steven Gardiner, the world 400m silver medallist.
Jamaican Olympic and world hurdles gold medallist Omar McLeod is also in new coach Evans’ training group.
“I need training partners to gauge myself off of, so once I get into a competition, it won’t be a foreign element to me,” Gatlin said.
So while his new training partners can run a lot of intervals and hold pace for a long time, Gatlin calls himself “a strength kind of guy”.
“Once we get in the gym, I shine there,” he said.
Evans has him on a program to get stronger on the track too, with three-minute drills and sand hill runs every Friday.
There is even talk of Gatlin testing himself indoors for the first time in years, with a 4×400 relay perhaps on the agenda.
“The biggest thing is, when age kicks in you are not going to get faster. You can get stronger. You have to go at it that way,” the coach said.
The pair have yet to map out a 2019 outdoor schedule
“I want to show remnants of how I ran in ’15 where I was very successful throughout the season but I want to kind of merge ’15 and ’17 together and be successful when it counts the most,” said Gatlin, who after a whirlwind 2015 season overreached and stumbled in the 100m final, narrowly losing to Usain Bolt.
To build his strength in the 2019 season, Gatlin will run more 200 metres including at the U.S. trials in July. “We have the golden ticket, the automatic bid for the 100 so we are going to focus mostly on 200s outdoors to get him stronger for the top end of his 100,” his coach said.
“We’ll be off and on with races. We are not going to go out there and chase everybody that is out there, like he was 28.”