American Gatlin sets record in 100

May 13, 2006|By PHILIP HERSH | PHILIP HERSH,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Only one thing was missing from Justin Gatlin's impressive resume, and he wasn't afraid to talk about filling in the gap.

When it happened, however, Gatlin confessed to being left speechless.

After all, even as reigning Olympic and world champion in the 100 meters, how could he have words prepared for becoming the world's fastest man faster in the track and field season than anyone in the past 85 years?

"I'm astounded," Gatlin said yesterday in a teleconference from Doha, Qatar, where he had broken the world record in the 100 with a time of 9.76 seconds.

Gatlin, 24, shaved the smallest possible fraction from the mark of 9.77 that Jamaica's Asafa Powell set June 14 in Athens.

Since arriving in the Persian Gulf for the Doha Super Grand Prix meet, Gatlin had made it clear this was the year, with no major championship on U.S. athletes' schedule, for him to go after the world record. Gatlin said he was aiming at 9.75, "and it can happen in Doha."

Truth be told, that prediction was so ambitious that Gatlin's agent, one-time high-hurdles world-record holder Renaldo Nehemiah, had told the sprinter to "tone it down a little."

Only 1920 Olympic champion Charlie Paddock of the U.S. had broken the 100-meter world record before June, as most runners plan their training to peak for the big meets in the summer. Paddock's mark came April 23, 1921, and no one else until Gatlin had broken it before June 14. This was Gatlin's second race of the season.

"It came quicker than I thought it was going to," Gatlin said. "If I stay focused and don't get a big head, I think I can run faster than that. I'm trying to run 9.74 or 9.73."

It may be awhile before he gets conditions as favorable as they were in Doha: a warm night, which sprinters love, and a tailwind of 1.7 meters per second, close to the legal limit of 2.0 for record purposes.

Having experienced sandstorms - and consecutive defeats - while running the 100 in Doha the previous two years, Gatlin held no great hopes the elements would cooperate.

"I thought maybe I could just go out and run a 9.6 wind-aided, so people will know I can run a 9.7," he said.

With a lesser tailwind (1.1) in the semifinals, Gatlin matched the career best of 9.85 he had set in the 2004 Olympic final. In this final, before a far-from-capacity crowd, he took command of the race midway, with Olusoji Fasuba of Nigeria running second in 9.84.

Gatlin did not know immediately how much the world record would be worth. "We're looking at the contracts," he said. But it should push his appearance fee for European meets to $100,000 per race.

"I have to be ready for my next race - I don't want to be a slouch," Gatlin said.

Powell bettered a time of 9.78 that since has been stripped from Tim Montgomery on non-analytical evidence of doping related to the BALCO scandal.

Gatlin, too, has been suspended for doping, though his two-year ban was cut in half on appeal. He had tested positive in 2001 for a stimulant contained in medicine for attention deficit disorder Gatlin's family said he had taken most of his life.

Philip Hersh writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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