Gatlin dreaming of 'historic' final Bolt duel

The 35-year-old former Olympic and world champion said racing against Bolt in what will be the Jamaican superstar's farewell to track and field would be "special."

Gatlin's rivalry with Bolt has been one of sprinting's most compelling narratives since the American returned to track and field in 2010, after a four-year doping ban.   -  AFP

Justin Gatlin says the prospect of lining up for one final duel against Usain Bolt is driving his weary body, as he attempts to book his place on the US team for August's World Championships.

The 35-year-old former Olympic and world champion said racing against Bolt in what will be the Jamaican superstar's farewell to track and field would be "special."

“It's a part of history," Gatlin told reporters at the US trials in Sacramento. "For me, when I made my comeback into the sport, I said to myself, 'I just want to be shoulder to shoulder with him.' Watching him run in the Olympics in 2008, when I was sitting at a restaurant, I said to myself, 'I want to run with that guy.'”

"There's no fear - just a total respect for how fast he is, the competition he brings. So I want to make it to these last finals," said Gatlin.

Gatlin's rivalry with Bolt has been one of sprinting's most compelling narratives since the American returned to track and field in 2010 after a four-year doping ban, the second drug-related sanction of his career.

But with the exception of a lone Gatlin victory in a Rome Diamond League meeting in 2013, the rivalry has been one-sided. Bolt leads Gatlin 8-1 in head-to-head meetings, a record which includes two Olympic and world 100m finals.

This season, Gatlin's preparations have been plagued by a series of niggling injuries that have disrupted his training. "It set me back a couple of weeks, about three weeks. So I've just been clawing to get back to where I needed to be," Gatlin said.

In the circumstances, reaching London for one last showdown with Bolt would be especially satisfying, Gatlin said. "It would be the toughest year for me. But it would be an honor to get through and show the fortitude that I have," he said.

Gatlin was a comfortable winner of his 100m first-round heat at Sacramento's Hornet Stadium on Thursday in a brisk 10.00 seconds. Yet the dominant US sprinter of his generation acknowledges he is being nudged aside by a new crop of athletes, led by 21-year-old Christian Coleman, the fastest man in the world this season who clocked 9.82 earlier this month.

"It's a foreign experience. I'm usually the young guy," Gatlin joked. "To be able to run with these guys and hang with them, I'm enjoying it and having fun."

Gatlin had special praise for Coleman, who races at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. "He's a great athlete. It's almost like deja vu. He did all the same things I did when I was at college - I broke the 200m collegiate record, he broke the 100m collegiate record. He's just focused and hungry," Gatlin said. "I talk to him every other week. He's still my competitor, but I'm proud of him. I just want to see him do the best that he can do."