Vol Sprint Pair Ready To Go Again

Christian Coleman & Justin Gatlin figure to be battling for bigger stakes than Tennessee bragging rights. (BILL LEUNG)

A FAIR BIT OF FAST SPRINTING—and a pair of World Championships golds—has rolled over the dam for Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman since the pair, Tennessee alums close to a generation apart, placed 1–2 in the ’17 USATF 100. They repeated that finish 6 weeks later at the World Championships in London, sending Usain Bolt into the sunset with a bronze, and last year Coleman—by then the WR holder at 60m—collected World Indoor gold. Improbable as it may seem in light of Gatlin’s age, a Vol 1–2 in some order is not out of the question when the century men line up in Des Moines—even if Noah Lyles and Ronnie Baker are on the line, which remains to be seen. Between them, Coleman and Gatlin claimed the two most recent pre-Des Moines Diamond League century wins, with their Pre Classic (Stanford) clash going Coleman’s way followed by a Gatlin 9.91–9.92 win over Noah Lyles in Monaco. [this article was amended after the latter race]

The Pre 100, with Coleman supreme at 9.81 and Gatlin unleashing a 9.87, his fastest since the ’16 Olympic Trials, certainly highlighted Vol power. “It’s weird sometimes running against a guy where we walked that same path, but it’s fun,” Gatlin said after the two sprinters’ first meeting since the ’17 Worlds. “I enjoy it. He’s a very hard competitor to run against and that always brings out the best in everybody.” Word. For Gatlin, 37, in no uncertain terms. He took ’18 as what verged on an off-season (10.03 best) and arrived at Stanford with a 10.00 topping his ’19 scorecard. His 2nd on The Farm set up a 9.92 win at the Lausanne DL 5 days later.

Coleman, ’18’s No. 1 World Ranker, also spoke after his Pre win, briefly and with the assurance of a young sprinter who believes his best lies ahead. “That’s always my mentality,” he said. “You take away the positive [from a race] but there’s always room for improvement, always room to keep on working and keep getting better. So like I said before, now we’re just going back to the lab, keep working and be ready for next time.” For the 23-year-old Atlanta native who now trains on Kentucky’s track “next time” was a 19.91 200 win at the Gyulai Memorial in Hungary. He plans to double in Des Moines.

Coleman is the athlete who told T&FN back in May, “I just want to dominate at anything at any point in time, whether it’s practice, lifting weights, being on the line, working out, I just want to go get it. I think that’s the difference in me.” As such his same-time 9.86 loss to Lyles at the year’s first DL 100 in Shanghai chapped Coleman’s hide, it tried the patience he is assiduously cultivating.

“Stacked every chip on myself, time to collect,” he tweeted after the Pre 9.81, linking to a looking-over-his-shoulder shot at the finish line. “All money in, just imagine what I gross back…⚡ @ Stanford, California.”

Victory, first in Des Moines then in Doha, is all Coleman has in mind, he assured the videocams and ink-stained wretches at Stanford: “I don’t try to shoot for any specific times or anything like that. I just try to go out there and compete, come out with a win. But all these guys are steadily getting better and better and always running faster so obviously it’s going to take something pretty good to try to get a gold medal at the end of the year.”

The birthday clock dogging his every step makes Gatlin unique. He felt “Great,” coming from a 10-oh to a 9.87 at Stanford. “Good training, speedwork, finally healed, feeling good so ready to go.” Finally healed? He had worked through an injury this spring. “I did,” he confirmed. “Early in the year in Grenada I strained my hamstring so I wasn’t able to do any speedwork, had to rehab. And then in compensation the other hamstring started tweaking on me so that I had to rest again. Then I got back, it started getting better and now here I am.”

Where he is heading into Des Moines—for which his defending world champion Wild Card means he doesn’t need to finish the 100 final in order to advance to Doha—is an early stage in construction of his full race: “I would say I could be a little stronger in the middle. I think I came on towards the end a little stronger but I’ve just gotta fix the middle to come down the track better.”

After holding off Lyles’ trademark freight train finish in Monaco, Gatlin exclaimed, “It’s all about putting together a good technical race, to use my experience. It feels great to beat these guys. This season is surreal, I can’t believe I’m still winning here after more than 20 years. Noah is a great runner, so every time I race him, I’m excited!”

A gray strand or three peppers Gatlin’s close-cropped jet black hair 16 seasons down an emotional road from his first sub-10 run in the ’03 edition of Zürich’s Weltklasse meet. Earlier that year, the former Florida prep had claimed the first of his two World Indoor 60 crowns. Asked how ready his veteran body is compared to this time in ’17, he cited a certain now-retired Jamaican legend: “Oh, man. What I’ve learned watching Usain is it’s all about that last race, the World Championships or Olympic race. That’s what people are going to remember the next year and the year after. So I’ve just got to be ready and poised for that final.” The old man lives. “ Yes, he does,” said Gatlin as he walked off to cool down from the Pre race. “He’s here. Don’t write me off yet.”