U.S. track and field star Justin Gatlin is one of the fastest men on planet Earth, yet his road to the 2012 Olympic Games has been one paved with disappointment and heartbreak.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Gatlin fought through adversity to become an inspirational figure—someone who has risen like a phoenix from the ashes to become one of the brightest American stars at these Summer Games.
He's a man of grit and determination—someone who believes in himself, regardless of whether or not anyone else feels the same way.
To find out more about Gatlin, follow me as I explore the journey that made the man.
Gatlin loved to run as a child, according to his mother, via TrackandField.about.com, but he didn't get involved in competitive racing until his junior year at Pensacola High School in Florida.
He didn't even start focusing on sprints until he received a scholarship from the University of Tennessee. Once he started, though, Gatlin was dominant, winning six consecutive NCAA titles.
Gatlin was a late-bloomer, which may account for why he's still going strong at the age of 30.
Gatlin was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in first grade, according to Additudemag.com. As such, his doctor prescribed medication to help him combat the disorder.
He took the medication throughout high school and into his college years, but unfortunately, the stimulant he was prescribed caused him to fail a drug test during his freshman year at the University of Tennessee. It showed up as an amphetamine, and Gatlin was suspended from competition for two years.
Per Additudemag.com: "'Everything I had worked for was going down the drain,' Gatlin recalls. 'I cried like a baby. They made me feel like a criminal and a cheater, when I had no idea I'd done anything wrong.'"
Gatlin fought the charges, and eventually the suspension was dropped to one year. He never took another pill after that positive test, according to the report, and it caused him to struggle both on and off the track for over a year.
Justin Gatlin has always been fast.
He used to hurdle over fire hydrants in his hometown of Brooklyn as a young boy, according to the Guardian, and he was the fastest kid at his high school.
After his sophomore year at Tennessee, Gatlin opted to become a professional runner.
He took his talents to Athens for the 2004 Summer Games, where he won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash with a time of 9.85 seconds. He won two additional medals that year, too—a silver medal in the 4x100-meter relay and a bronze medal in the 200-meter.
Gatlin's world turned upside down in 2006.
According to BBC.co.uk, Gatlin stated:
"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 authorized anyone to administer such a substance to me."
Gatlin was given a four-year ban.
Gatlin maintains to this day that he never knowingly did anything wrong. He recently did an interview with OutsideOnline.com. They asked him about his claims that his masseuse was to blame, and he replied, "'I haven’t recanted my story or changed it. I’m not even sure what happened. I’m only going with the process of elimination, and that’s all there really is.'"
We may never know the truth about what happened, but Gatlin has never once wavered from his version of the tale.
Gatlin, like many of the Olympic athletes these days, is an active member of the Twitter community. You can follow him @justingatlin if you're into that kind of thing (I am).
His Twitter bio reads: "Olympic Gold Medalist 100m/ World champion, Unv. Tenn, Renaissance Man. God aint done with me yet!!!"
So, what exactly is a renaissance man?
Merriam-Webster.com's definition: "a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas."
I won't begin to speculate about Gatlin's various interests or his expertise, but I'd love to know more about this from his perspective.
I did reach out to Gatlin via Twitter to ask, but as of yet, he hasn't responded.
One of the more touching moments at the Olympic Trials earlier this summer was when Gatlin celebrated his win in the 100-meter dash with his son, Jace.
His win guaranteed he would be on the 2012 Olympic team, and rather than bask in the glory of the moment by himself, he found his little boy and took him for a ride on his shoulders for his victory lap.
Afterwards, Gatlin spoke about his emotions, via FoxSports.com: "'Usually, I have a lot of words. I'm almost speechless,' Gatlin said. 'Everything just feels so surreal. I just let the heart really go out and do what it had to do.'"
Gatlin talked about his aspirations as a child in his interview with OutsideOnline.com. He was really into animals and insects, and he wanted to be a zoologist. He talked about that, saying:
Yeah, the praying mantis was my favorite. He has no natural predators in the insect world. He's not really aggressive, but he’s a stalker, and in a way I feel like that’s what I am. I don’t come in knocking doors down. I’m not loud. But I’m watching and waiting for my moment to take the throne.
If that isn't a deep insight into the inner workings of Gatlin's mind, then I don't know what is.
Justin Gatlin has been on TV stations from Japan to the States throughout his career.
According to TV Guide, Gatlin has appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Apprentice, Pros vs. Joes, and Lift Every Voice.
Additionally, Gatlin appeared on a Japanese TV show called "Kasupe!" in 2011. He ran the 100-meter dash with a time of 9.45 seconds, according to NBCOlympics.com, though the time couldn't count towards a world record due to the fact that he was aided by a wind machine.
During Gatlin's four-year ban from track and field, he made three attempts to play in the NFL.
He tried out for the Houston Texans in 2006, according to AOLNews.com. He then tried out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007, according to USA Today. Finally, Gatlin participated in one of the Tennessee Titans' pro days in 2008, according to NFL.com.
I'm stunned that the Oakland Raiders didn't invite Gatlin to one of their camps.
The fact that Gatlin didn't make any of these teams tells you all you need to know about how speed isn't the only trait NFL players have to have in order to compete.
Justin Gatlin qualified for the 2012 Summer Games by posting a time of 9.80 seconds in the 100-meter dash in Eugene, Oregon earlier this year. According to NBCOlympics.com, it's the fastest time ever recorded by a man over 30.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Gatlin's qualifying time is even faster than the 9.85 he ran at the 2004 Athens Games—a time that earned him the gold medal.
Gatlin is going to provide a stiff challenge for Tyson Gay, Usain Bolt and the rest of the contestants this summer in London. He's older than all of them, but somehow, Gatlin is faster than ever.