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Gatlin leaves his mark on Super Grand Prix

14 May 2006

By Elliott Denman

The 24-year-old, Brooklyn-born Raleigh, N.C., resident had just broken the world 100m record with a sensational 9.76-performance on Friday in the IAAF Super Grand Prix meet in Doha, the Qatari capitol, when he was asked by members of the international press corps, assembled for a telephonic press conference, to put it all into words.

But this was an assignment he had trouble with.

"I'm kind of numb right now," Gatlin said, after returning to his hotel and preparing for a rushed flight back to the United States.

"The feeling is more disbelief than anything, more disbelief than the Olympics (his 2004 victory in Athens), more disbelief than the World Championships (his 2005 win in Helsinki)."

"This race was a lot quicker than I thought it would be, a lot quicker."

After a tight battle with Olusoji Fasuba of Nigeria over the first 60 meters, Gatlin broke it up over the final 40 meters. Fasuba stayed close to run a brilliant 9.84 in second place followed by Shawn Crawford, Gatlin's training partner and the 2004 Olympic 200m champion in his own right, ran third in 10.08.

The stadium display clock at first read 9.77, but was adjusted to 9.76 moments later.

The world record Gatlin erased -- by the slenderest of possible margins -- was the 9.77 performance by Asafa Powell of Jamaica in Athens on June 14, 2005.

Gatlin's world record leaves athletics fans salivating over the Gatlin-Powell match scheduled for June 11 in Gateshead, England. Before that, however, Gatlin is booked to run the 100m at two major meets in the U.S. -- the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on May 28, and the Reebok Classic at Icahn Stadium, Randalls Island, New York City, on June 3.

Gatlin's time of 9.76 was at first thought to have something in common with another of track and field's historic world record performances: Bob Beamon's epic 8.90m (29 feet, 2 ½ inches) long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics because of a following wind of precisely 2.00 meters per second, the legal maximum for world record consideration.

But, after further study, the wind reading was adjusted to 1.7 meters per second, still helpful but well within the range for legality.

Gatlin was aware of the possibility of an aiding wind at his back. In pre-meet training sessions in Doha, he'd felt the wind getting "stronger and stronger each time."

Even if the wind reading had come it greater than 2.01, Gatlin said he'd not have been concerned.

"Maybe I could have dropped a wind-aided 9.6, so people would know I could run [a wind-legal] in the 9.7's,'' he said.

Soon after news of the world record spread around the planet, words of praise came heaping in, from some of the sport's top administrators and other runners.

"We're so proud of you for what you've achieved and all the hard work that you've put in to work towards this record," said USA Track and Field CEO Craig Masback.

As South River, N.J., distance runner Dave DeMonico, expressing national pride, put it: "The 100m record came back home to the [United] States, where it belongs. [Gatlin's] been saying he's been training and feeling good and it was just a matter of time ... and it was."

Gatlin's path to the 9.76 wasn't smooth. After some unease in the starting blocks, the field of eight was sent on its way.

"I was thinking [at the midway point], just be patient and let myself go through the transition phase and the drive phase. I knew that I had probably the best top-end speed over everyone else, and I [wanted] to make sure I finished well."

When the 9.76 was confirmed, Gatlin leaped for joy and embraced friends and fans alike, including many other Americans.

"I was hugging everybody in the stands," he said. "They have a lot of kids over here who are Americans going to school over here, so I gave everybody love and thanked everybody for everything."

He was asked, how does it sound: "Justin Gatlin, world's fastest human?"

"A lot of people were saying that prematurely," Gatlin said. " I felt uneasy about that at first, but now I can say, 'I'm the fastest man in the world,' and it feels great."

Gatlin was also asked about his association with coach Trevor Graham, who had coached athletes caught up in performance-enhancing drug situations.

"I'm not them," Gatlin said succinctly.

And the Powell race?

"It hasn't really crossed my mind," he said. "I just focus on my race. Any competitor that steps to the line is a worthy opponent, and that was true tonight. Everyone's coming out and trying to run fast."

It was Gatlin's third trip to the Doha meet but his first victory.

Crawford had won at Doha in 2004; Gatlin's 2005 conqueror, Francis Obikwelu of Portugal, ran sixth with a time of 10.13.

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