The plot to the majority of kung fu films is simple – good versus evil. The same applies in Westerns – Denzel Washington in the the recent remake of the Magnificent Seven forms a ragtag band of good guys who come up against a typical bad guy.
The narrative in film (thanks scriptwriters) is typically that the good guys overcome some form of insurmountable obstacle, as well as some underhanded cheating from the bad guys, before eventually triumphing. Good always wins.
Except when it doesn’t.
In the final of the men’s 100m race at the World Championships in London over the weekend, it was a classic “good” versus “evil” scenario.
In the blue corner – the always smiling, clowning and loveable reigning world and Olympic champion and all-around “good guy” – Usain Bolt – was racing in his final individual 100m race of his career before retiring from the sport.
In the red corner – the scowling and much-maligned former world and Olympic champion (and the last man to beat Bolt over 100m in 2013) Justin Gatlin.
Bolt came into the 100m final on the back of some very average performances during the season, but this was nothing new as the Jamaican has proven time and again that when it matters most he rises to the occasion.
Gatlin had run some of the fastest times of the season, with only his countryman Christian Coleman running quicker than him. But coming into the final he was drawn in the outside lane 8, and he wasn’t realistically expected to challenge Bolt.
We all know what happened next.
The majority of the London crowd (and the unbiased Sebastian Coe) who booed Gatlin throughout the championships believe that once a doper, always a doper and there is little love lost for Gatlin as a result.
One of my friends at work, a guy called Oupa, is probably Lance Armstrong’s number one fan in the whole world. To quote Oupa “Lance Armstrong never tested positive for any banned substances” – so that means that Lance will never be anything less than a seven-time champion in Oupa’s view.
I’ve not been to Oupa’s house, but I imagine when I walk into his lounge that I will be greeted by this image:
One of the arguments put forward by Oupa and other Lance-stans is that even “if” Armstrong was guilty of doping, there were a whole lot of other cyclists who were also doped to the gills at the same time, and they still couldn’t beat him. The suggestion is that Lance had to be mentally and physically stronger and tougher in order to win those seven titles.
This follows similar logic to that of the Canadian Ben Johnson – arguably the most infamous doper to be caught and punished in athletics history – in the ESPN Films documentary “9.79”, where he (Johnson) declares that:
I just did it better than anyone else. It doesn’t make you a fast runner … It was my training regime that was better than the rest of the world. My training was tailored for Ben Johnson and my coach was a genius. Now the whole world is using my program.”
Johnson’s point is that the drugs themselves don’t make you run any quicker – the drugs help athletes to train harder and to recover quicker, and there is still a lot of hard work that goes into becoming a champion.
Justin Gatlin has been found guilty of doping twice:
The first time was in 2001 as reported in this Guardian newspaper interview:
“Last time I checked, someone who takes medication for a disorder is not a doper,” said Gatlin of his first drugs violation when he tested positive in 2001 for an amphetamine contained in attention deficit disorder medication (ADD) he had taken since a youth. “Other people in the sport have taken the same medication I had for ADD and only got warnings,” he added of the two-year ban that was later reduced to one. “I didn’t.”
The first offence appears extremely harsh (in my opinion).
Regarding Gatlin’s first doping offence, the International Association of Athletics Federations, handed down a two-year ban. Gatlin appealed and got the suspension cut to a year. The appeal committee noted:
“Mr. Gatlin neither cheated nor intended to cheat,”
“He is certainly not a doper.”
The second offence in 2006 was when he failed a test for the banned steroid testosterone and was banned for four years. According to Gatlin he has never doped:
He has never admitted to doping and continued to insist his 2006 test came from a massage therapist rubbing testosterone cream on to his legs, a contention the therapist has denied.
Gatlin’s defence sounds even more far-fetched than “the dog ate my homework” he will always have the smell of suspicion lingering around him like a bad fart.
One of the issues that I have with believing Gatlin either continued to dope since then, or has benefited from the drugs he took when he was found guilty in 2006 is this; there isn’t a single athlete that was found guilty of doping and has returned at the same level, or better than before they were banned.
Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell are a few of the athletes who’ve been banned for doping and have made comebacks after serving reduced sentences. None of them managed to return to the track at anything close to their previous form. (And interestingly enough, there were cheers for Yohan Blake when his name was announced during the 100m final in London).
So how is it possible that Gatlin, since returning from his athletics ban in 2010, has posted times that are equal to, or better, than those he made when he was in his early 20’s? The advances in drug testing since the infamous 100m Olympic final in Seoul mean that it has become extremely difficult for drug cheats to evade capture.
Gatlin may not be perfect, but then which human being can claim to be? He may not be people’s idea of a hero or a role model, but he doesn’t deserve the pantomime villain treatment.
Justin Gatlin is a world champion. Show him some respect.