Justin Gatlin: Controversial Sprint Star

Rise, Fall, and Comeback

Justin Gatlin
Justin Gatlin of the United States waves to the crowd after taking second place in the men's 100m final at the Olympic stadium during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Justin Gatlin remains a controversial but undeniably talented sprinter who typically is at his best in the biggest races. An Olympic gold medalist and multiple World champion, Gatlin missed four of his prime years due to a doping suspension. Sprint fans can only imagine what races between the veteran champion Gatlin and an up-and-coming Usain Bolt would’ve looked like.

Justin Gatlin Was Born to Run

Gatlin, born in Brooklyn, didn’t begin running competitively until he was in junior high school in Pensacola, Florida.

But by age 4, his mother, Jeanette, told Sports Illustrated, Gatlin “would never walk anywhere. He would run. And he would hurdle the fire hydrants.” He became a standout high school runner, then attended the University of Tennessee on a track scholarship.

College Champion

Gatlin spent two productive years at Tennessee before turning pro. In 2001 he won NCAA outdoor championships in the 100 and 200 meters. He won indoor 60- and 200-meter NCAA titles in 2002, as well as the 2002 outdoor 200-meter championship.

Medical Mistake Leads to Drug Suspension in College

Gatlin suffered his first official drug suspension while in college, although his mistake was more one of carelessness. Gatlin had taken a medication for attention deficit disorder since around age 8. The medication contained an amphetamine that was banned internationally. Because he didn’t violate NCAA rules, Gatlin continued to compete at Tennessee, but the IAAF suspended him from international competition for two years.

Because he was under a doctor’s supervision, Gatlin could’ve reported that he was taking the medication and suffered no consequences. The IAAF rescinded the suspension after one year, noting that Gatlin was taking the drug for legitimate medical reasons

Pro Triumphs

Gatlin was an immediate success on the pro circuit, taking the 60-meter gold medal at the 2003 World Indoor Championships.

He was then slowed by a badly torn hamstring muscle in the outdoor season, but he rebounded strongly in 2004.

Gatlin wasn’t favored in the Olympic sprint races, but he again demonstrated his ability to rise to the biggest challenges. He earned a bronze in the 200 at the Athens Games and used a particularly quick start to win the 100-meter gold in a then-personal best 9.85 seconds. He capped his first Olympic experience by running on the victorious U.S. 4 x 100-meter relay squad.

In 2005 Gatlin became the second man to turn the sprint double at the World Championships, winning both the 100- and 200-meter events.

Downfall for Doping

Gatlin appeared to break the 100-meter world record in 2006, but appearances were deceiving. His time was announced at 9.76 seconds but was later officially set at 9.77, tying Gatlin with Asafa Powell on the all-time list.

Shortly thereafter, Gatlin tested positive for elevated testosterone levels. His then-coach, Trevor Graham —who had numerous runners disciplined for drug violations—blamed a masseur for delivering the banned substance without Gatlin’s knowledge. The IAAF, however, suspended Gatlin for four years and voided his world record-tying performance.

Comeback for Olympic Medals

Gatlin returned in 2010 and improved steadily. He made the U.S. 100-meter team at the 2011 World Championships but was eliminated in the semifinal round. In 2012, however, he won his second 60-meter World Indoor Championship gold medal, nine years after his first.

Gatlin also ran a then-personal best 9.80 to win the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials championship and qualify for his second Olympic Games. In London, Gatlin earned a bronze medal in the 100 meters and a silver in the 4 x 100-meter relay, helping his team set a U.S. record of 37.4 seconds.

Gatlin won the Diamond League 100-meter title in 2014, posting four victories and running a personal best and world-leading 9.77 seconds in the Diamond League final in Brussels. He also won a Diamond League 200-meter race, in Monaco, in a personal best 19.68, which was also the world-leading time for 2014.

He became the oldest sprinter to make an American Olympic team in 2016 and won a silver medal in the 100-meter dash in 9.89 seconds, second to Usain Bolt at 9.81 seconds.

Justin Gatlin Stats:

  • Height: 6-feet-1
  • Weight: 180 pounds
  • Birth date: Feb. 10, 1982
  • Hometown: Pensacola, Florida
  • Personal best: 9.77 (100 meters); 19.68 (200 meters)