Dopehead chases Bolt

19 May 2015 - 02:01 By Ross Tucker


Justin Gatlin is no Usain Bolt. Some of you may even be asking "Justin who"? Well, get used to the name because there's a real possibility he'll be the man who displaces Bolt as the world's fastest man by the Rio Olympic Games (if not sooner).Gatlin is currently the world's fastest man. By far. On Friday night, in the season-opening Diamond League meeting, he ran 9.74, making him the fifthfastest man in history. In 2014, he went unbeaten, running six of the seven fastest times. He was also the Olympic champion in 2004, 11 years ago.This would be an exciting development were it not for the fact that, from 2006 to 2010, Gatlin served a doping ban for testosterone, though he denies ever knowingly taking the substance.Gatlin has improved every year since his comeback, and now, at 33, he is running faster than he did at 24, ostensibly without the benefit of steroids.Not surprisingly, many following the sport have judged that Gatlin must still be doping. Their cynicism is borne of the fact that if history has taught us anything, it's that testing is too 'blunt' to catch cheats who may have access to undetectable, designer steroids, and it's too imprecise to catch clever cheats who know exactly when to take the known drugs to avoid detection.Gatlin's own response is (a) to profess current innocence and (b) to explain that he has matured, improved his biomechanics, and is training smarter.Another possibility, supported by some preliminary research, is that the effect of steroids persists long after doping ends, because of what researchers called a "cellular memory mechanism". That study was in mice, but supports the argument that serious doping offences, like steroids, should carry a lifetime ban, rather than the current four years.The final problem with Gatlin is that he asks awkward questions about his fellow sprinters, especially Bolt. It's not Gatlin alone who compels the questions, but rather the history of sprinting. Until Lance Armstrong, the name synonymous with doping was Ben Johnson. Then came Linford Christie. Tim Montgomery. Marion Jones. Tyson Gay. Asafa Powell.It's indisputable that, when you look at a list of champion 100m runners, it is heavily tainted by doping. If you are a 100m champion, you earn the title of world's fastest man, and it comes free with a second title - world's least trusted athlete. The doping spotlight is inevitable.But then you add Gatlin, whose presence at the same time as Bolt intensifies that spotlight. It's a circular argument, and flawed because guilt by performance or association is wrong, but the sport's public relations problem is that Bolt was much faster than Gatlin, whom everyone assumes is doping.And by the same logic, if doping is worth even 1%, that's a 10th of a second in a 100m race, so how are the margins of Gatlin in 2015, and Bolt from 2008 to 2012, possible without doping?On every level - for the credibility of anti-doping, the believability of sprinting - Gatlin is a magnet for all the wrong reasons.But he does shake us from a naïve apathy. The response to his success will be interesting.

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