So a few months have passed since the IAAF World Championships 100m final where pantomime villain Justin Gatlin stole the world crown from Usain Bolt. Gatlin was booed in London after winning gold for his previous bans from the sport after failing 2 drug tests. Only 4 months later and Gatlin is back in the news, caught up in another drug scandal!
The World Championships, held in London earlier this year was the last hurrah for sprint and sporting legend Usain Bolt.
The track star did not bow out of the sport the way that he and his millions of fans across the world would have hoped, with a third place finish in the 100m final, losing out to Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman, who took first and second. He then pulled up short in the 4x100m relay with a hamstring injury. It was a tough couple of days for Bolt, and certainly a far stretch from the dream ending that so many (myself included) were hoping for.
On the contrary, it was a dream event for Justin Gatlin who took the top spot in the 100m final, beating Bolt with a time of 9.92 seconds, picking up a silver medal in the 4x100m relay and sticking it to his critics. Gatlin’s success brought loud jeers from the crowd with displeasure over the champions passed drug usage. Gatlins victory was labelled as the worst possible result for athletics and once again sparked rows over lifetime bans for athletes caught using a banned substances.
Now Gatlin is back in familiar territory as he and his team are being investigated, after certain members of his team were apparently found to be offering a supply of performance enhancing drugs. Gatlins past coach Robert Wagner was caught on tape by undercover reporters, and is now implicated in an undercover doping investigation. During the investigation, both Dennis Mitchell (Gatlins current coach) and Gatlins names popped up as an administrator and user of a banned substance.
The investigators posed as representatives from a company producing an upcoming film about athletics and wanted advice for the lead role. Apparently Gatlins team were caught not only advising them to give the fictional actor performancing enhancing drugs, but also how to obtain them and how to avoid being detected. They even offered to distribute the drug via a doctor in Austria for a sum of $250,000 (£187,000).
Mitchell is a past athlete who won Olympic gold back in 1992 as part of Team USA’s 4x100m relay and is no stranger to drug scandals. He tested positive for testosterone and blamed it not on performance enhancers but on “five bottles of beer and sex with his wife at least four times”. He went on to say "It was her birthday and she deserved to have a good time". Thankfully, the IAAF didn't accept this BS (however USATF did at the time...SMH) and he was banned for 2 years. According to reports Gatlin has now fired Dennis Mitchell.
Although never admitting to using steroids, Gatlin has served a total of 5 years over two bans. Let's take a quick look at them. Firstly, Gatlin was banned from the sport in 2001 but had it halved from 2 years after he appealed it was due to medication he had been taking since he was a child. Strike 2 came in 2006, where he tested positive for testosterone. This was halved again from 8 years to 4 due to reasons concerning the first case.
Currently first time doping offenders can serve up to a 4 year ban. But this wasn't in place during Gatlins first case back in 2001. If Gatlin was to be found using a banned substance for a third time, surely at the age of 35, it would mean his exit from the sport (just saying). In the past, Bolt himself has called for lifetime bans on drug cheats but had no ill words for Justin after his defeat in London.
It’s strange that the same athletes (that have been caught already, lets add) who always protest their innocence are the ones who always seem to be involved in scandilicious situations. Let’s ponder that for a moment…Joking aside we do have to think about the further implications of Gatlins and other drug cheats success. What about other athletes, clean athletes. This is surely a smack in the face for them when they see athletes who have cheated in the past go on to be world champions? And what kind of message does it send out to younger athletes? That you can get caught (twice) and still come back and be champion of the world? Gatlin was clearly willing to do whatever it takes to be champion, and now he is once again. But should he even of been given the chance?
There are many who believe that Gatlin (even if he is clean now) is still reaping the benefits of using testosterone all those years ago. This is his third stint in the sport and he's running faster than ever before. Has the cheating finally paid off?.. or is it just down to his hard work and determination? Let's be honest, the guy trains like a beast and is obviously very gifted, but in an event where every millisecond counts, any extra boost gives you a huge advantage.
I think these are legit queries, but if we banned drug cheats from the get go then we wouldn't need to ask them but would also send out a clear message to all athletes. This is an opinion shared by Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, who has also called for a lifetime ban on any athlete caught using a banned substances. When speaking about the result in London she admitted the atmosphere in the crowd when Gatlin took gold wasn't pleasant, but would be avoided if drug cheats weren't given the opportunity to compete (which is true).
Maybe our national federations need to take more responsibility? Should a federation be selecting an athlete that has tested positive for a banned substance? You might argue why not? If the athlete has served there ban and is now available then why shouldn't they be given a second (or third) chance? Or should they try and set an example for their country by clearly showing that drug cheats are not welcome in their squads? It's a difficult decision to make when you have an athlete performing so well, you want to win, and the rules allow you to do so.
So, is it time to finally change the rules and for the world anti-doping agency and legal systems to come down harder on athletes found using drugs and ban them for life? Even Lord Coe chimed in after the events in London and said that Gatlin should have been banned from the sport when he was found guilty.
Ultimately Gatlin doesn't come up with the rules, clearly, he just seems to break them (one last jab before I finish), which currently state that you can re-enter the sport once you've served your ban. He did just that, and returned all guns blazing. Despite what you think of him, he's putting in performances that nobody would have predicted at the age of 35...and love him or hate him, he’s still the reigning 100m world champion….for now (okay I lied).