I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke when I ran at Paul Derr Track on the campus of North Carolina State University. I don’t remember much from that 2002 Raleigh Relays except for that I felt as if the track was too soft. The significance of mentioning that is because Paul Derr was the home base for Sprint Capitol USA.
Paul Derr Track. That’s where it all began — the downward slope of United States Track and Field’s integrity when it comes to matters of doping in which it’s still trying to regain (or was it ever established?) some sense of public trust, pretending that it has a handle on things that went way off kilter when that needle landed on United States Anti-Doping Agency’s front stoop. Heck, for all tense and purposes, that beginning is when USADA became a household acronym.
I knew, or became more knowledgable of the fact that, all of us athletes were competing on hollowed track — on the same eight lane oval where Marion Jones and Shawn Crawford and Antonio Pettigrew and Tim Montgomery and Chandra Sturrup and Justin Gatlin all practiced daily. Led by their coach Trevor Graham, Sprint Capitol dominated the sprint world. It had the fastest couple on the planet with Jones and Montgomery, the old 400 sage in the late Pettigrew and finally a six-time NCAA champion from the University of Tennessee in Gatlin.
Then Sprint Capitol imploded. It came crashing down like Lolo Jones in the ’08 Olympics. Montgomery’s 100 world record was revoked (along with a split from Jones), Jones had five medals — three golds — stripped (and a subsequent conviction of perjury charges and a prison stint), the 2000 Olympic 1600 relay’s gold medal stripped (Pettigrew was a member of that team) and Gatlin’s first doping ban. In all, eight athletes from Sprint Capitol was banned or tested positive for PEDs.
Graham’s decision to get high off of his own supply crumbled America’s sprint dominance and has also inadvertently transformed Gatlin into Lot’s wife.
What Renaldo doesn’t understand is that Justin damaged the sport. It’s hard for us to forgive that.-Michael Johnson, four-time Olympic gold medalist
The 2015 World Championships wasn’t kind to Gatlin. On the track, he earned two silver medals and the 4×1 relay was disqualified in the finals after an exchange zone violation took away a third silver for JGat. Sadly, Gatlin’s hardest races were off the track, where he was pelted with verbal stones from everyone calling him “evil” by the BBC to 400 world record holder Michael Johnson saying that Gatlin has damaged track and field.
“This is all Justin’s fault. He did it, he was responsible, he was given the opportunity to come back into the sport and he has done nothing — zero — to endear himself back to the public and to get people to understand his situation,” Johnson said as reported by the BBC. “He hasn’t even said ‘I’m against doping in the sport.’
“What Renaldo (Gatlin’s agent) doesn’t understand is that Justin damaged the sport, it’s hard for us to forgive that.”
On the surface, what Johnson said is true but what those like him seem to forget that track and field, at least the USATF sector of the sport, was damaged long before Gatlin’s 2015 season. Back in 2004, former sprinter Kelli White tested positive for PEDs, which she admitted taking thanks to Victor Conte and BALCO, had all of her medals from 2000 up to that point stripped and since disappeared from the sport.
And the ‘Golden Goose’ — Marion Jones. Jones should be the poster child for the damaging of track and field. On the track, she was untouchable. Winning sprint titles with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce dominance, with Bolt-like charisma. Not only did Jones take PEDs, she LIED to the public about it until the fire got too hot. And much as it was with White, Jones vanished from the sport and apparently was forgotten.
Which leaves Gatlin. He’s the remnant of Sprint Capitol. And like a fossil dug out of an Egyptian sand, he’s the constant reminder of a banished Graham and Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), the drug that shook the sport loose from its seams. Gatlin’s success this season forced people to not only continue questioning USATF’s drug enforcement policy (which is another issue in of itself) it forced us to look back at Sodom. But instead of us turning into salt, the curse falls on Gatlin.
And just like Lot’s wife, Gatlin will always forever be stuck.