Age no bar for Gatlin

To challenge Usain Bolt at the Rio Games, Gatlin, 34, admits that he has to step up his game.

Justin Gatlin... no intention of hanging up his spikes now.   -  AP

Justin Gatlin smiles after winning the silver medal in the men's 200m final at the World Championships in Beijing.   -  AP

Justin Gatlin will be 34 when the Rio Olympics roll around next year, but the controversial American sprinter insists he has no intention to hang up his spikes.

Gatlin, who has served two doping bans and whose unrepentant nature has divided track and field fans, came away from the recent World Championships in Beijing with two silver medals, beaten in both the 100m and 200m by Jamaican rival Usain Bolt.

Bolt is sitting out the season-ending Diamond League meet in Brussels, starting on September 11, as the long preparation for the Rio Games starts.

In the towering Jamaican’s absence, Gatlin will compete in both the 100m and 200m, hoping to replicate his performances in the Belgian capital last year when he ran the fastest double ever run in one meet.

“It’ll be a bigger challenge this year after coming off a double at the World Championships, running so much more this year than last year in a smaller time frame, but I’m here and ready to run, so I hope the body will hold,” the 33-year-old said.

He insisted that his two silvers had not knocked him psychologically. “I was more fatigued rather than emotionally up or down,” the Florida-based sprinter said. “I went there, ran good races, great rounds... but I’m happy with the performances and staying healthy and coming away not injured.

“I’ve put that (disappointment) behind me. Obviously I wanted to come away with being on top of the podium, but I had to make sure to focus on what's next and Brussels was next.”

Gatlin added: “As a runner and a competitor you can’t dwell on races behind you. When they’re done, they’re done.

“You’ve got to move on and get ready for the next race. If I’d come into this race thinking about what happened in Beijing or not performing to the best of my abilities then it’s going to take away from the race in Brussels.”

Gatlin rebounded from a first doping ban to claim 100m gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the sprint double at the 2005 Worlds in Helsinki before serving a second doping ban between 2006-10.

But he said he had paid no attention to what he dubbed a skewed build-up to the battle with Bolt, often portrayed as one of “good against evil”.

“I didn’t focus on that when I got to Beijing, I didn’t worry about the articles, read anything, I just focused on running, that’s what I do,” he said, adding that he would take around a month off after the final Diamond League meet.

“Right now I’m looking forward to just resting, so once I get home, just relax, sit on my couch and once he (my coach) texts me or rings my phone and says ‘It’s time to get back to work’, I’ll be prepared,” he said.

To challenge Bolt at the Rio Games, Gatlin acknowledged that he would have to improve, despite reaching the relatively (for a sprinter) ripe old age of 34 in February.

“I have to make sure I step my game up,” he admitted. “In 2014 I was in consistent 9.8s shape, and this year pretty much consistent 9.7s shape throughout the season, so next year I hope to do even better.

“It’s just about growth and being able to be there on the day and turn up.

“Age is not for me to say what you can or can’t do. I don’t think that I’m going to hit a limit and say ‘Argh, I’m 34 I can’t learn anything anymore, I can’t focus on being a better athlete’.

“This year was more a prelude and preparation for Rio and knowing exactly what my body is going to have to go through to be able to perform at the best levels.”

Gatlin, who described himself as a “content” man, said he had set himself a goal when it came to a possible retirement.

“These young athletes coming up in America have great talent and I’m giving them a opportunity to go ahead and knock me off the podium and if they can knock me off and all I can do is be the alternate in the relay then I know it’s time for me to go!”