- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2012

He knelt at the starting line, his composed features showing no hint of emotion. One way or another, it would be over in less than 10 seconds — the most important time in Justin Gatlin’s long road to redemption.

Those seconds would determine whether one of the fastest men in Olympic history would have a chance to reclaim that title, or if he would wind up as just another aging athlete trying to recapture past glory.

As the gun sounded, Gatlin ran the best race of his life. He finished in 9.80 seconds to win gold at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials and cement his return as one of the best American sprinters.

“I wasn’t too hyped, wasn’t too calm,” Gatlin, 30, said immediately after the race. “It felt just right. I went out there and gave it my all, and I have a lot more left in the tank.”

Gatlin’s road to redemption has been filled with roadblocks, including a drug suspension, a significant weight gain and a period of depression during four soul-searching years away from the sport he loved.

Sprinter Tyson Gay was sidelined for nearly a year after having surgery on his right hip in 2011. (Associated Press)
Sprinter Tyson Gay was sidelined for nearly a year after having surgery ... more >

Gatlin began as a hurdler before his coaches at the University of Tennessee convinced him that he had the speed to become a world-class sprinter. Gatlin made the change.

After winning six NCAA titles, he left Tennessee to turn pro.

A member of the 2004 Olympic team, Gatlin won gold at the Summer Games in Athens. He defeated his teammate and defending Olympic champion Maurice Greene, who took the bronze. Gatlin also won a bronze in the 200 meters and picked up a silver as a member of the 4x100 meter relay team.

Career in decline

Gatlin also won gold at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, but in 2006, his career came to an abrupt halt.

Gatlin tested positive for a substance described by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as a testosterone precursor.

Gatlin protested the results and claimed his innocence, but it was a fight he seemed to know he would not win.

Gatlin ultimately reached an agreement with USADA and accepted an eight-year ban, as opposed to the lifetime ban USADA had planned to levy. In August 2007, the suspension was reduced to four years.

In the meantime, Gatlin was lost.

“I got to the point where I said, ‘I don’t care anymore,’” Gatlin recalled. “I was depressed about life. I felt like I wasn’t worth much.”

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