As the World Championships approach, the men’s 100m, the blue ribbon event of the meet, will be getting more attention than usual, but not necessarily for the right reasons.
Usain Bolt will unarguably be favourite for the title, but recent form from his closest rival, drugs cheat Justin Gatlin, has caused concern for some.
Gatlin’s rocky road began in 2001 when he tested positive for an amphetamine at the US Junior Championships. His ban was overturned when it was discovered the substance found was contained in medication the American had been taken for a decade, to combat attention deficit disorder.
Although Gatlin got off lightly the first time round, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) warned him that a further drugs violation would result in a life time ban from the sport.
Having said that, Gatlin managed to walk away with a mere four year ban after testing positive to a banned substance in 2006.
Since his return to the sport in 2010, the American has clocked a personal best of 9.79seconds, won the World Indoor Championships in 2012, and claimed bronze in the 100m and silver in the 4x100m in the 2012 London Olympics.
Gatlin’s achievements and times will certainly not worry Bolt, who is unarguably the best sprinter of all time, but for spectators, the dread that Gatlin could possibly steal the limelight at the World Championships is uncomfortable to say the least.
Gatlin beat Bolt in early June, at the Rome Diamond League event, to take first in 9.94 seconds, with the Jamaican settling for second in 9.95.
Compared to his usual high standards, Bolt has been struggling to clock quick times so far this season, but he put himself in good stead this weekend at the London Anniversary Games with his winning time of 9.85.
The Jamaican is renowned for coming good at championships, but will surely feel the added pressure and expectation heading into Moscow.
Although Gatlin might well be clean now, the prospect of someone who has previously tainted the sport winning gold at a major championship worries a lot of people.
Not only do drugs cheats blemish the sport, but once they are reinstated, their presence can continue to hinder athletics.
Rivalry before a major competition is something spectators would normally thrive on. Fans love the excitement of not knowing which way the final could go. The possibility of a fast, intense, close race.
But when one of those competitors has been unfaithful, repeatedly, fans understandably continue to show apprehension towards the honesty of that athlete. Regardless of whether they are clean now, they have lied in the past, which is enough to be condemned.
Instead of soaking up the rivalry, spectators and athletes are instead worried that the ‘wrong’ person could win, which is not the way the sport should be.
There have been ongoing talks and outbursts of how this can be resolved, with many in accordance for life time bans.
London 2012 chairman, Lord Sebastian Coe, said on the subject: “If I could bring lifetime bans in I would.
“The legal inhibitor to be able to do that is profound. We are not going to be able to have life bans, they would be challenged and when we have done it we have lost.”
Lord Coe added: “We have to go back from two years to four years. The move down to two did a lot of damage to my sport.
“It’s for the clean athletes. I don’t care about the cheats we weed out. These people are trashing my sport.”
People have taken to Twitter to show their irritation towards Gatlin ahead of Moscow:
Usain ‘s only real contenders for the Worlds are Mike Rodgers and Justin Gatlin, both cheated and got caught #cheatsneverprosper
— Iain Mitcheson (@SirSmurfLittle) July 26, 2013
still have an uncomfortable feeling when i see the likes of justin gatlin and dwain chambers line up at a global event #pasthistory
— John Richardson (@Jono141091) July 26, 2013
If Justin Gatlin wins the world champs, whoever finishes 2nd will be the true champion #outwiththecheats
— Ross Murray ‚úå (@RosscoJammin) July 26, 2013
For now, until more severe punishments are in place, it looks like the world of track and field will have to continue accommodating drug offenders, and hope that the clean athletes prevail.