Moscow, Russia - Justin Gatlin's quest for a World Championships gold
medal in the 100 meters got off to a strong start on Saturday night at
Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
The former Woodham High School standout won his first round heat of the
100 in 9.99, which was the second-fastest time of the first round. Only
U.S. teammate Mike Rodgers had a faster-time than Gatlin, and Rodger's
was only .01 seconds faster.
World record-holder and overwhelming favorite Usain Bolt won his heat
easily, but clocked only a 10.07 while cruising to the victory. Gatlin,
however, was pressed in his heat by Keston Bledman of Trinidad, who ran
10.02. It was only in the last five meters of the race that Gatlin seemed
to ease off the pedal.
Following his bronze medal in the 100 meters at the Olympics last summer,
as well as a silver from the 4 x 100 relay, Gatlin has continued the
momentum in 2013. He claimed a victory over Bolt in the Rome Diamond
meet in June, and has a season best of 9.89, just .04 seconds behind
season best of 9.85.
However, he had a speed bump of sorts after his upset win over Bolt. A
hamstring injury bothered Gatlin at the U.S. Nationals in Des Moines,
in late June, but it didn't keep him from placing second to Tyson Gay and
qualifying for the world meet. Gay later was revealed to have tested
positive for a banned substance and withdrew from the championships here
while the case is reviewed.
After the race, Gatlin was relaxed and confident talking with the media.
"Following the injury to my leg I've just been working on getting stronger
and getting my technique better," Gatlin said. "I've had a lot of slo-mo
camera work with Ralph Mann and he showed me a lot of flaws in my races so
I've been trying to perfect them. . . He says for me to run 9.8 with a
leg is pretty impressive.
"Just to be able to come out today on this track and be able to run a good
time - the Mondo track is very fast and the crowd is very good - I think
that the way the stadium is constructed it's going to show true running
talent. (There is) no head wind, no tail wind."
Gatlin said that he is very comfortable with the pressure of performing
well on this stage.
"I think the pressure really brings out the best in me. With that pressure
you have to be technically sound, and have the guts and the glory. I have
no room to relax."
But, can he beat Bolt again?
"I hope so," Gatlin said. "You guys asked me if I could beat Bolt once. I
did it and that can be a building block to beating him again."
The answer to that question - at least for the moment - will come on
Sunday when Gatlin will take the track for the 100 meter semifinals
and finals here at Luzhniki Stadium.