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Justin Gatlin, drug cheat or one of the world’s greatest modern day sprinters?

By Chris Lewis - posted Thursday, 10 August 2017

Given the constant booing that was directed at Gatlin by the London crowd at the 2017 world athletics championships when he was introduced before races and after winning the 100m (beating Usain Bolt), should Gatlin be merely treated as a drug cheat or respected as one of the greatest sprinters?

While Usain Bolt rightfully ranks as one of the greatest sprinters of all time, winning an unprecedented 13 global 100m and 200m titles since 2008, the following table shows that Gatlin also has an imposing global championship record winning ten individual medals (including four gold).


While we all have a unique right to express our judgment, I don’t believe that any athlete should be booed after serving a drug ban and being allowed by the relevant sporting organisation to compete again.  

After all, given the high number of global sprint medalists that have been banned for taking illegal drugs in recent years, he was never alone. One has only to recall the banning of other Olympic/world sprinting champions including Marion Jones, Konstadinos Kederis and Tyson Gay.

Gatlin’s 2017 world championship 100m success is an outstanding achievement for a number of reasons.

First, Gatlin’s 2017 100m victory at the age of 35 is a staggering achievement in an event which ranks as one of the hardest and prestigious of all sporting events to win.

Gatlin’s victory is also remarkable on the basis of winning two global 100m titles 13 years apart, arguably one of the greatest feats of successful sporting longevity in such an explosive sport.    

Second, in an era where drug testing has become more extensive and/or sophisticated given the many championship medalists that are being caught (including high profile sprinters), Gatlin has succeeded despite being one of the most tested of all athletes.  At the national level, testing by USADA on Gatlin has been extensive since he made his comeback in August 2010: 2011 (8 times), 2012 (13), 2013(14), 2014 (15), 2015 (16) and 2016 (14).    


At the international level, Gatlin was also subjective to extensive IAAF testing by competing very often in the Diamond League, a series of events throughout the season (mostly in Europe). Gatlin won the Diamond League for the 100m in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

In contrast, some of the world’s top track stars compete sparingly on the circuit, preferring to stay at home in order to prepare for global championships.

While some express anger at Gatlin’s life ban (for two failed tests) being eventually reduced to four years because of cooperation with authorities and the first positive test in 2001 (amphetamines) being due to medication he had taken since childhood to address attention deficit disorder, it is not Gatlin’s fault that he was allowed to compete again.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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