Gatlin’s Positive Drug Test A Major Blow To Track And Field

By Steve McGill
Updated: August 1, 2006

NORTH CAROLINA — Well, the doodoo just got deeper. On Saturday, July 29, Justin Gatlin announced that he had tested positive for testosterone at the Kansas Relays in April.

Gatlin, the most recognizable and celebrated figure in track and field in the United States, owns an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters from the 2004 Olympics. He also owns two gold medals – in the 100 and 200 meters – from the 2005 World Championships.

Perhaps most importantly, he co-owns the 100 meter world record in a blazing time of 9.77 that he ran this past May.

Now he has become yet another symbol of the malignant drug culture that threatens to destroy the sport. Two years ago, Gatlin, along with another notable track stars like Allyson Felix, Jeremy Wariner, Lauryn Williams, Bershawn Jackson, and Sanya Richards, represented a “change of the guard.”

These athletes were the young, enthusiastic fresh faces that provided fans with a welcome transition from the stars of a previous generation.

Sprint heroes such as Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Kelly White, and Torri Edwards were drowning amid drug scandals that ended some of their careers, and severely threatened others.

Of all the youngsters, Gatlin was the one who was doing the most to bring the sport back to a state of credibility and popularity.

The winning smile, the humble demeanor, the fierce competitiveness, and the inspiring Nike commercials made him a very likeable athlete who was in the process of transcending the sport on the level of a Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson.

His rivalry with Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell was creating a buzz that appeared to have the potential to bring an even wider audience to track.

Meanwhile, Gatlin repeatedly spoke out against drug use and proudly boasted that his success was evidence that you can reach the top without any performance-enhancers.

Forget all of that. Now Gatlin is just another druggie, another reason to assume that any track athlete out there running incredibly fast times must be cheating.

This is a very sad day in the world of track and field.

If you really love the sport, your heart is broken. Just when you thought it was safe to believe that what you are watching is the authentic result of hard work melding with a high skill level, you are forced yet again to protect your emotions with a cynical sneer and a sarcastic shrug of the shoulders.

I was at the Junior Olympic National Championships at Morgan State in Baltimore when a college coach informed me of Gatlin’s positive test.

The coach had just heard the news himself, and was devastated. He expressed a mixture of anger, frustration, despair, and plain old sorrow.

My feelings were the same. It reminded me of how I felt when I first heard that Magic Johnson had the HIV virus: No, not Justin. How ironic, it seemed, that as a bunch of eager 12-year-olds were running their hearts out in the 90-degree Baltimore heat, the reality of the dark side of the sport decided to slap me in the face.

Reports that have come across the wire services from around the world largely focus on the reputation of Gatlin’s coach, Trevor Graham, who has had several athletes test positive in the past.

Montgomery, the most disgraced of Graham’s protégés, never tested positive, but was banned due to overwhelming circumstantial evidence produced by the BALCO investigation.

From the beginning of his professional career, Gatlin was warned that association with Graham could spell trouble. Now it has. As Michael Johnson pointed out in a recent article, Gatlin’s association with Graham will lead the powers that be to deal with him harshly.

Graham’s a tough one to figure out. When speaking to his athletes and former athletes, they all point out his meticulous attention to detail, his obsession with technical mastery of sprint mechanics, the rigorous demands of his training regimen, and his ability to nurture meaningful, trustful relationships.

Also, it has been reported that he is the one who sent in the syringe tainted with the previously undetectable designer steroid that blew open the Balco case. If he’s a cheater, then why would he bust himself by turning in a dirty syringe?

But then again, if he had access to the dirty syringe to begin with, he must have known what his athletes were doing. And it can’t be a coincidence that so many of his athletes have tested positive. Something funky must be going on here.

Graham contends that Gatlin’s positive test was the result of sabotage. He claims that the masseuse he employs put testosterone into the massage cream before rubbing it into Gatlin’s skin.

Yes, it sounds like a my-dog-ate-it story, but I desperately want to believe it, because I’m tired of everybody laughing at my sport, and I don’t want to see the career of Justin Gatlin, who faces a lifetime ban, end at the age of 24.

As a coach of youth athletes and high school athletes, I’ve reached the point where I don’t know if I ever want any kid I coach to ever run professionally, even if he has the talent to. T

here just doesn’t seem to be any integrity left at the professional level. I guess I could be over-reacting. getting caught up in the emotion of the moment.

I hope so.