Dressed in white tee, blue track pants and running shoes, Justin Gatlin, 40, who retired in February, looked fit as a fiddle. The American, who is in the city as the TCS World 10K Bengaluru International Ambassador, touched upon various points, including his 2017 win over Usain Bolt, their rivalry, his period of suspension among many other points in an interaction on Thursday.
Was defeating Usain Bolt in 2017 highlight of your career ?
Definitely one of the high points because obviously our battles throughout the years is for the ages, one of the key points of track and field history. So I've locked in with Usain for many years, starting back from 2005, when he was a young athlete going all the way through so obviously in 2004, 2015, 2017, it was key points in my career. So not just beating Usain, but finally accomplishing it on a world stage was a key point of my career.
Rivalry with the Bolt. Give each other some credit for one another's success?
When you have a rivalry like that, it always comes with some kind of ego. So if you look back, we have never contributed our success to each other throughout our career while we were active. But as we left the sport, it became I think, more clear and realization that each other has helped each other be better athletes. He’s gone on record saying that I pushed him. But then for me also was the fact that when he came out, he made me want to be a better athlete.
How do you look back at times when you had to sit back due to suspensions? Do you think without suspensions, your winning record would have been even greater, and maybe even Bolt's record could have been a little less..
Those are things I always think about, those are the what ifs, but I also look back, even sitting out and coming back into sport. If I didn't ever sit out, I might not even be running in 2017 or 2019, or even 2015. After 2008, I might have been done. So for me, it was the fact that it was kind of like a gift and a curse in a way, you know, like, it showed my longevity. It showed my dedication to the sport, it showed how hard I worked to achieve these things.
Because I ran into a part of history where athletes don't run, they don't run at 38, 39 years old...…Do I think my time would have been faster? Possibly if I stayed in the sport, but at the same time, I was able to sit back, watch how the sport was developing and blossoming, watching how Usain has turned 9.8s and 9.7s into something that's normal that we were able to see. And I was able to say, okay, that's what I need to do so it helped me evolve as an athlete. I didn't I didn't think about age anymore. I just thought about performance.
Do you feel that track and field athletes, especially 100m, are adequately compensated given the attention they get? And if not, then what can be done to help them?
Do I think that we're compensated in the right way? No, because we have a sport that we're constantly running around the world. We have World Championships every two years, and the Olympics every four years. I think the way we are compensated now is that the world looks at us every four years. The world doesn't even know that we have a circuit to travel around the world.
They think that we're just training for four years, just for nine seconds, which is insane to me. So I think that if the world was more educated, understood what it is to be an Olympic athlete, and what it is to travel around the world and compete. I think that people will look at it differently. And I think that the compensation will grow.
Does the sport need a marquee personality now to take it forward? Or having a revolving door at the top of the podium is the way going forward?
I think we're so used to having marquee athletes. But I think now we have the opportunity, like I said, again, to sit back and really watch athletes blossom, kind of nourish them, cheer them on root for them, see exactly what they can do you know what…..You had the Olympics last year, now the World Championship, then another Olympics and another world championship. So it gives the opportunity for someone like Erriyon (Knighton) and Noah (Lyles) to be able to solidify their greatness all in a matter of four years, where it took someone like myself a decade, two decades to be able to show greatness. These people will be able to show it within a matter of five years.
Is running under 9.5s (in 100m) possible in the near future?
Yeah, I think what people don't realize is that, when you look at sports, we just look at the physical part of it like, how to achieve how to run 9.5s but also comes a mental part of it. You have to first believe, then you set out physically to go out there and achieve it. And I think a lot of people look at 9.5 that is so amazing. I can't achieve that.
But if you really put your mind to it, and break down the journey that it will take to run 9.5, you really will see it's achievable. Obviously everything has to come together -- nutrition, rest, recovery, competition, strength, patience. So do I think it is achievable? Yes, I do. Records are there, and meant to be broken. So at some point in time, it will be.
Justin, have you had time to think about what your legacy is?
I haven't for myself at least. Listening to my peers and the younger athletes who are coming behind me, who have actually made a name for themselves, they're constantly telling me that I'm a legend in the sport, and I've inspired them to be better athletes and better people. But for myself, it's almost like a double edged sword. It's like, I know that I have a great legacy. But at the same time, it's normal for me.
You've also dabbled a little bit in coaching. So is that the next phase of your career?
Somewhere down the line it is. I think, to be a great coach, you have to give a part of yourself to the athletes. So if you have seven athletes that you're coaching, you give them seven pieces of yourself. And what I mean by that is you're sacrificing getting up every day, every morning, going out to the track, you know, teaching these young athletes how to be able to be the best athletes they can be. And when they lose you are sad, when they win, you're just as excited.
So I think that I'm trying to find myself and figure out where I want to be and be able to deliver that success to those young athletes at some point in time.