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Gatlin hurt athletics - Richards

13 November 2006

By Sarah Holt

World Female Athlete of the Year Sanya Richards believes Justin Gatlin's ban for doping offences has cast a shadow over athletics in the United States.

Gatlin, the Olympic 100m champion, is facing a ban of up to eight years after a positive test for testosterone.

Top-ranked 400m star Richards told BBC Sport: "New faces like me, Justin, Bershawn Jackson and Lauryn Williams were all standing up against drugs."

"And then for Justin to go and fail us - it hurt out sport."

Gatlin failed a drugs test in April this year, having previously tested positive for amphetamines in 2001.

The length of Gatlin's sentence will be determined at an arbitration hearing in 2007.

But Richards believes Gatlin's fall from grace will have a lasting effect on the image of athletics in the US, especially as the sport already struggles to make headlines for the right reasons.

"Athletics is not high profile in the US," explained Richards. "If you win a gold medal in an Olympic year then everybody knows your name, otherwise most people don't have a clue who we are."

"I definitely think the US public have been disillusioned by what happened to Justin."

Richards is already aiming to change the perception of the sport through her role as an assistant track coach at Baylor University, and also as part of USA Track and Field's "Be A Champion" programme aimed at getting young people involved in sport.

But she thinks her USA team-mates will have to pull together if they are to clean up the sport's image in the wake of Gatlin's disgrace.

"Hopefully we can all stand up against it (doping) and speak out," said Richards.

"And hopefully we won't have any more of those mishaps in the future and people will start to realise that there are more clean athletes who work hard than there are athletes who cheat."

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