“Gold is gold. Bronze is bronze,”…”But the story that comes behind this bronze? Speechless. It means so much to me. I’m glad to be here. I have a lot left in the tank.”
Justin Gatlin is a 30 year old track athlete in an era of sport when that number seems ancient. His climb back up the ranks is even more improbable. Gatlin, after winning three medals in the 2004 Olympic Games, was found by the anti-doping agency to be cheating. In 2006, the court adjourned and imposed an eight year ban on him. In 99.9% of cases, this would end an athlete’s track and field career.
The media shunned him, his coach – Trevor Graham – was blacklisted, anonymous internet bullies pummeled him, and he lost his deal with Nike. Consider this, Nike did not part ways with Tiger Woods – even at his worst. Only two men have ever been cut by Nike, Gatlin and Mike Vick. His situation was dire.
In 2009, they agreed to reduce his ban from eight years to four years, meaning that if he prepared himself he could come back to the world’s stage. The problem? With confidence at a low after a failed audition with several NFL teams, the 6’1” track star was 215 lbs, nearly 30 pounds above his running weight.
Fast forward to last night and the often-jeered Gatlin was on the podium after beating out Tyson Gay (the American-darling) and Asafa Powell, the Jamaican sprinting titan.
Can you imagine being banned, fired by the nation’s greatest sports marketing presence, and having to lose 30 lbs just to get back down to running form? Gatlin faced these challenges and overcame them.
Today, he stands tall as an Olympic gold medalist. He’s as focused as ever, sponsorship bound, and prepared to compete every day for the chance to challenge Usain Bolt for the 100 meter title one more time.