- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

Justin Gatlin is far more interested in winning races than popularity contests.

Still, the American sprinter with a doping history doesn’t quite understand the backlash over his nomination for track and field athlete of the year.

Gatlin went undefeated in the 100 and 200 meters this season, a year that didn’t include a major meet and one in which Usain Bolt chose to give his nagging injuries time to heal.

But Gatlin’s inclusion for track’s annual award has angered some athletes. So much so that Olympic discus champion Robert Harting even withdrew from consideration.

Gatlin insisted again and again in an interview with The Associated Press that he’s served his time - four years for testing positive for excessive testosterone in 2006 - and should be at least considered, especially after going 18-0.

His reaction to those showing so much displeasure is this: Why over an award? Why not after he captured a bronze medal at the 2012 London Games or silver at the 2013 world championships?

“Not a peep, then. Not a stir,” Gatlin said. “I don’t make any waves. I don’t say anything bad about anybody. I don’t point fingers.

“I’m sad to say that a lot of people out there feel that, ‘Once a doper, always a doper.’ But that makes no sense. That means you don’t believe your system is working.”

The 32-year-old sprinter said he’s been tested often by U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, World Anti-Doping Agency and IAAF, the governing body of track.

Skepticism remains, though, as when he finished in 9.77 seconds in Brussels last month, a mark achieved only by the world-record holder Bolt, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell. That’s also the time Gatlin was running in 2006, when he tested positive.

“For some reason in an off year, when I run 9.77 with no medal of any sort, and now I get all of this backlash?” Gatlin said. “I guess people feel like if my two feet get me across the line in first, that’s good enough. But they don’t want me to win a popularity contest.”

There was originally a 10-man list of nominees for the award issued by IAAF, until Harting took his name out of the running, with the German telling Spiegel magazine, “It’s insulting for me and my fans.” The winner is announced next month.

“I didn’t ask to get nominated,” Gatlin said. “My choice was to run and win races and be dominant for myself. My job is not to go out and lose. My job is to win. That’s what I’m supposed to do, like everyone else nominated.”

Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, believes Gatlin deserves a chance at redemption.

“The rules incorporate the notion of second chances by allowing someone to return after they have served their sanction,” Tygart wrote in an email. “If we don’t like this then let’s change the rules but it’s not fair to move the goal line during the game.”

In the middle year of an Olympic cycle and with no world championships this summer, Gatlin overhauled his training program. He ate healthier and slimmed down to 175 pounds. He also fine-tuned his technique in Florida.

For as fast as he runs, though, his past always catches up. A number of Diamond League meets won’t include him because of his history.

The 2004 Olympic champion tested positive for amphetamines in 2001, but arbitrators decided Gatlin didn’t take it to cheat and that doctors prescribed it to treat attention deficit disorder first diagnosed when he was 9.

“Stopped taking it cold turkey right then, once I tested positive,” said Gatlin, a former star at the University of Tennessee.

Five years later, he tested positive again, this time for testosterone. USADA and the IAAF pushed for an eight-year ban. He served four years.

“I took my lumps, sat my time down, came back and worked hard to make my way back to the top,” he said.

When he returned in 2010, Gatlin was running 10.26. As he lowered his time, he increased his detractors.

That didn’t bother him.

This insinuation, however, did: At the University of Oslo, researchers gave mice testosterone - the same hormone for which Gatlin tested positive - and found the resulting super-mice developed muscle changes and performance benefits that lasted long after doping stopped.

“For the few haters out there, seems like that’s what they want to do, discredit my name and label me with laboratory rats in Oslo, and say, ‘Oh, steroids are in your system for decades and decades,’” Gatlin said. “A lot of athletes that tested positive, they never came back and ran times close to the times they ran when they were positive. I think that proves hard work and dedication on my behalf.

“I’m not doing anything that’s a secret to anybody. I’m just going out there and believing in myself.”

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