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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Luke Phillips

BRUSSELS (AFP) — For a track star who dallied with American Football when serving a four-year doping ban, it is fitting that sprinter Justin Gatlin likened his decision to race an unusual 100-200m double at the Diamond League finale in Brussels on Friday to his own “Super Bowl.”

As Jamaican world and Olympic champion Usain Bolt called time on his injury-plagued season, Gatlin has gone on to dominate the sprinting world.

The 32-year-old American, the 2004 Olympic 100m gold medallist and double sprint world champion in 2005 before serving a 2006-10 doping ban, has set the fastest times of the year in both sprints — 9.80 in the 100m and 19.68sec in the 200m.

He is also unbeaten in the blue riband event of the 100m, something he intends to carry on come Friday.

“This year I’m undefeated in the 100m and it is a challenge for me to keep that sheet clean,” Gatlin said.

“Usain Bolt was the last athlete to remain undefeated in the 100m throughout the season and that was back in 2009.”

Gatlin added: “Travelling to Brussels I was thinking about my favorite American football team that remained undefeated for a long while but in the end they lost a game.

“I said to myself, ‘Brussels is going to be my Super Bowl and I definitely don’t want to lose my game Friday’.”

– Formidable field –

While Gatlin will have Bolt’s King Baudouin stadium best of 9.76sec over the 100m in his sights, he acknowledged that he would be racing a formidable field.

While Bolt nurses himself back to fitness, there will be the Jamaican trio of recently-crowned Commonwealth champion Kemar Bailey-Cole, former world record holder Asafa Powell and current world bronze medallist Nesta Carter.

Also lining up will be U.S. teammates Tyson Gay, the former world champion who only returned to action recently after a doping ban, and Michael Rodgers, who heads the Diamond Race standings for the blue riband event, by one point from Gatlin.

“The field is extremely strong, eight athletes have seasonal best sub-10 second performances, which is a quite unique setting for this race,” said Gatlin, who has just one hour between his two events.

“I wanted to race the 200m in Brussels,” said the American veteran, who was and remains the target of many critics who believe in life-time bans for drug cheats.

“I surprised myself in Monaco where I ran 19.68. (Meet organizer) Wilfried Meert has put me in lane 7, the famous lane from where Yohan Blake stormed to 19.26. I know he wants to put the pressure on me, because I love to perform under pressure.”

Gatlin, who added that he wanted to continue racing until 2020, said: “As long as there are no young guys on the track who can beat me I want to go on.”

But he added that being remembered as a track star was not his ultimate aim.

“I have been wondering how I want to be remembered. Probably not as a fast athlete but rather as a fighter,” Gatlin said.

“Somebody who always wants to bring out the best out of him. That has helped me come back at the highest level in my sports after being taken out of competition for almost half a decade.”

AFP Photo/Sebastien Bozon

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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