Justin Gatlin missed out on the “Athlete of the Year” Shortlist despite winning the gold medal at the World Athletics Championships. He is not, however, the only sprinter to miss out.
IAAF president, Lord Sebastian Coe, is no fan of Justin Gatlin due to his history as a drugs cheat. The controversial matter of Gatlin not making the Athlete of the Year shortlist need not be so despite his past.
While Gatlin is the first 100m World or Olympic champion to have not been on the shortlist since 2004, he is also the first champion since 2004 to not have done the 100m and 200m double.
After Gatlin won Olympic gold in 2004, he went one better in 2005 to take both the 100m and 200m at the World Championships. Two years later in Osaka while serving a drugs ban, Gatlin’s American compatriot,Tyson Gay, achieved the same feat, while Usain Bolt exercised a near total dominance over the 100m and 200m between 2008 and 2016. The only global 100m or 200m title that Bolt failed to win over that period was in 2011 when he false started in the 100m.
It is, therefore, of little surprise why the 100m world athletics gold medallist has been left out and, with 20 individual events across track and field, half the winners will not be on the list.
In fact, only one sprints gold medallist over the 100m, 200m and 400m disciplines found their way onto the shortlist – 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk.
The female winners of the 100m, 200m and 400m at the World Championships were also absent from the list. The clear favourite for the women’s 100m, Elaine Thompson, trailed home in fifth position and Dafne Schippers defense of her 200m gold was not as spectacular as her victory in 2015. Likewise Shaunee Miller looked set for gold, but a lapse in concentration caused her to trip near the end in bizarre fashion as she came fourth.
Had Miller and Thompson won their respective events then they would have been contenders for the shortlist. Schippers, like Gatlin won, but did not dominate the event throughout the season.
Gatlin has also not been great on the circuit this season. He endured a fourth place finish in the Doha Diamond League and fifth in the Eugene Diamond League. The American has also been injured and had to pull out of his first race of the season due to a quad injury.
Going into the USA National Championships, Gatlin was far from the favourite to win the World Championship and many questioned whether he’d even qualify. Tennessee college student, Christian Coleman, who also went to the same university as Gatlin, looked like he might take the title after running the fastest time of the year – 9.82 seconds.
But Coleman tightened up in the closing stages of the final and Gatlin was able to overtake him in the final third of the race to be crowned USA champion. Gatlin’s duel against Coleman was repeated in London at the World Championships in similar fashion as Gatlin edged past him in the latter stage of the race.
Gatlin showed courage and conviction to come back and win both the USA championships and the World Championship despite being the underdog at his advanced age of 35 and having been plagued by injuries throughout the season.
The men’s 100m has been wide open this year and there have been some close encounters. Gatlin has been beaten in three separate Diamond Leagues – races which he would have controlled in years gone by.
Hence, to not see Gatlin on the shortlist is no real surprise based solely on performance.
Justin Gatlin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo credit: Douglas Jacó, Instagram: @douglasjaco1