23 Aug Say what you like about Gatlin’s past, right now the sport needs him
Well, wasn’t that fun? Comfortably the best and most entertaining session of athletics we have seen since 2012. Topped off by the BBC actually managing to show most of it and indulge in the genuinely informed insights of Daley Thompson and Michael Johnson. All we need now is for Gabby Logan to get rid of that ludicrous gong thing and we might have a decent championships on our hands. Lord knows, after the snooze-fest that was the 2013 event, we deserve it.
It was such a shame for Katarina Johnson-Thompson (or KJT as Gabby insists on calling her without exception) made a mess of the long jump and thus relegated herself out of contention. I hope that Phil Jones was whispering to her that she can take far more positives from the past two days of competition than she can negatives – because that is certainly true. It was a shame for Katarina personally, but it was far more of a shame for the competition. Had that long jump been legal, it would have been one hell of a showdown at the climax of an event that – to be brutally honest – is usually too confusing and non-competitive to capture anyone’s imagination. The same is true of seeing Amos exiting the 800m earl Although it was David Rudisha who did for him in the semis, we are deprived of seeing the pair eyeballs out in the final. This is a pity.
Do you catch my drift here? What has been lacking in the sport for the past four years (and arguably far further back than that) is genuine top drawer rivalries. Impressive though the processions of Rudisha, Bolt and Farah have been – they just don’t get anyone excited. The 10,000m last night was a classic example. Predictable. Boring. The needle that existed between the likes of Coe and Ovett in the 1980s is what the sport thrived on. Rivalry is what any sport thrives on – just look at football. This is theatre. We need different camps, factions – heroes and villains.
And thus my attention turns to Justin Gatlin – the bogeyman of international athletics. The man who the vast majority of athletics fans wish wasn’t in Beijing (and if you listen to some of the quite ludicrous rhetoric emanating from some quarters, shouldn’t even have his liberty). I don’t want to go into much detail about the absurd reasoning of so many who criticise him – save one mention of Eightlane’s favourite hypocrite Darren Campbell. The anti-drugs man who was coached by and continues to defend his convicted cheat of a coach Linford Christie. Those in glass houses, Darren…
I should just clear one thing up, however. Gatlin is NOT a two-time drug cheat. His first ‘offence’ was testing positive for amphetamines in 2001 – he was subsequently reinstated when it was proved that positive was a result of taking Ritalin for attention deficit disorder – a drug he had been on since childhood. Far more credible than hastily signed TUEs for asthma and thyroid disorders isn’t it? His second positive for testosterone is inexcusable and he was rightly punished. The rules allow him to be competing and he now complies with all testing required of him (unless he doesn’t hear the doorbell, like some people we know). Your gripe, thus, is not with Justin himself but with the system that allows him to compete and thank God that it does.
Let’s take Gatlin out of the equation for this evening’s show. What are you left with? The Usain Bolt show would’ve rocked into town, once more draining the life out of anyone and anything else. He could’ve started celebrating at 70m whilst all marveled at his genius. Predictable. Boring. Such a routine win would have meant that the vast majority of the public wouldn’t have cared less. We have seen Usain win so many times now, unless he breaks a world record (which was never going to happen) we aren’t really that interested.
Instead of this, we got a genuine competition. And the sideshow of the Gatlin as the villain versus the noble warrior of Usain trying to save the soul of athletics only added to the spectacle. This final mattered in they eyes of so many for totally the wrong reasons. The fact is that it didn’t matter who won. Athletics took a step towards rehabilitation just by it happening. Why? Because – for the first time since Usain false started, thus handing victory to teammate and convicted doper Yohan Blake in 2011 – the men’s 100m final was actually an exciting race. Credibility in the sport was irrelevant for the general public tonight. Excitement was very much relevant – and it delivered.
Sport is wonderful because it captures emotions, makes people unreasonable and totally one-eyed. This evening, at long last, we had a battle that captivated the world. And I fully congratulate Mr Gatlin on the role he played in it. Without him, we’d have just been left with Usain’s dancing to talk about.