At one point, Justin Gatlin was considered one of the front-runners to lead American sprinters into the post-Michael Johnson age. In the 2004 Olympics, Gatlin won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash, as well as the bronze in the 200-meter dash and the silver in the 400-meter relay.
Gatlin was one of a few young guys who were expected to lead American track and field into the 2008 Olympics. People felt that since he was able to win the gold at the age of only 22, he wasn't going to be on the decline just yet and would be able to capture the gold again.
However, in 2006, all that changed.
On July 29, 2006, Gatlin admitted to failing a drug test, saying:
I have been informed that after a relay race I ran in Kansas City on 22 April, I tested positive for "testosterone or its precursors." I cannot account for these results, because I have never knowingly used any banned substance or authorised anyone to administer such a substance to me.
This was particularly unfortunate because Gatlin had already tested positive once for amphetamines, but he was not punished because the positive test was the result of a medication he'd been taking for attention deficit disorder for more than a decade.
However, because of the fact that he had one strike already on his record, be it a fluke or not, the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) stated that one more violation would have him banned for life.
Gatlin maintained his innocence and cooperated fully with the ensuing investigation. Because of his continued cooperation, the original eight-year ban was reduced to four years.
Fast forward to today. Gatlin is looking to clear his name to a certain extent—at the very least to prove he can win cleanly. At the U.S. qualifying, he posted his personal-best time of 9.80 seconds in the 100, which is also the fastest time ever recorded by a man over the age of 30.
Gatlin has used the shame and embarrassment he endured as motivation. He's looking to become the first sprinter since Linford Christie in Barcelona 20 years ago to win the gold in the 100 after turning 30.
While Gatlin certainly can pull it off, it won't be easy. The obvious elephant in the room is Usain Bolt. While Bolt has shown that he is a little more human since the 2008 games, he's still the man to beat in the 100.
Another man that Gatlin has to look out for is one of his own countrymen, Tyson Gay. Gay is the only sprinter to have beaten Bolt in an event final since he won the gold in 2008.
Maybe Gatlin won't come home from London with the gold, but if he can go to London and represent his country without any kind of trouble, any medal would just be the cherry on top of a great sundae of redemption.