The story of Justin Gatlin’s comeback is quite an amazing one. Most people considered Gatlin’s professional track career to be over after he was forced out of the sport for a period of 4 years between 2006-2010 at the prime sprinter age of 26 years old. No one had ever returned from such a lengthy suspension to compete at the same elite level. And no one expected Gatlin to be any different. However, Gatlin proved everyone wrong.
Gatlin was determined to make a comeback. He began his return to the sport in August 2010 when he competed in a small European track meet and ran the 100-meter race in a respectable time of 10.24. This was a far cry from the steroid-assisted world record tine of 9.77 seconds that he shared with Asafa Powell. Everyone had written off Gatlin and the early performances during his post-suspension return did nothing to change their minds.
Gatlin persisted and had a breakout year in 2012 when he won the bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London in a new personal best time of 9.79. Usain Bolt won the gold.
Over the ensuing 3 years, Gatlin became one of the most dominant sprinters in athletics. Gatlin shined while Bolt struggled. Gatlin became one of the few athletes to defeat Bolt when Gatlin won the 100 meters at the Golden Gala meet in Rome in June 2013.
At the age of 33 years old, Gatlin ran faster than he ever did in his entire life at the Qatar Athletic Super Grand Prix in May 2015. His time of 9.74 shocked the world and set up a major showdown with the reigning World and Olympic 100-meter champion Bolt at the 2015 IAAF World Championships.
No one had ever successfully returned to elite competition after being forced to sit on the sidelines for so many years. Gatlin’s improbable and impressive comeback was nothing short of amazing. However, this is not the storyline that the news media has chosen to tell.
The news media has seized upon the meeting between Bolt and Gatlin as a showdown between good and evil. Bolt is the sport’s savior while Gatlin is the sports’ boogeyman. The UK sports media has particularly demonized Gatlin. The BBC has thrown objectivity out the window and made no attempt to hide its bias when rooting for Bolt to defeat Gatlin in the so-called struggle to save the soul of the sport. According to the UK sports media, a Gatlin victory would cause irreparable harm to the integrity of athletics.
BBC commentator Steve Cram celebrated as Bolt ran one hundredth of a second faster than Gatlin in a time of 9.79.
“He’s saved his title, he’s saved his reputation – he may have even saved his sport,” said Cram.
Meanwhile Brendan Foster and several other BBC commentators were also jubilantly celebrating after Bolt won.
Renaldo Nehemiah, the sports agent representing Gatlin, spoke out about unkind and biased characterizations of his client.
“Justin, as well as I, feel that the British media and journalists have been extremely unkind to him. There’s been nothing positive said about him now for some time. Every characterization is solely about doping and vilifying him,” said Nehemiah. “So, to maintain his own dignity and self respect, he feels it best not to speak to them. It’s very unfortunate, but he’s been hurt tremendously by these attacks. And as human beings, we should be better than that. The BBC in particular should report without lacing their comments and reporting with biased views.”
While the bias have been blatantly apparent to everyone watching, BBC commentator Foster missed out on the perfect opportunity to apologize for such uncharacteristically biased reporting from the BBC. Instead, he dug in deeper, too blinded by his hatred of doping to recognize the bias.
“The BBC coverage is not bias – it’s factual,” Foster said. “The fact of the matter is Justin has been banned twice. If he hadn’t been and we were supporting Bolt to beat him, then we could have been accused of bias. It was Justin who did what he did to get himself banned twice. It wasn’t the BBC or the newspapers. If he’d been a clean athlete, there would be great respect for him.”
Gatlin is fed up with the unfair treatment he has received by the media. He paid the price for his anti-doping violations. He completed the sentences handed down to him by anti-doping authorities. As he told Sports Illustrated earlier this year, Gatlin has “served [his] time”.
“There’s no end to this,” he said in the Sports Illustrated interview. “I served my time. I did my punishment. I sat out four years and here I am, still getting punished for something that happened to me, literally, a decade ago.”
Unfortunately, the rabid anti-doping fanatics inside and outside of the news media don’t believe in forgiveness but only eternal damnation for Gatlin.