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Justin Gatlin’s redemption: the hated athlete who reconciled with gold

Justin Gatlin’s name is probably the one that has generated the most controversy in athletics in recent years. The American’s career has been marked by a series of vicissitudes that include great achievements in major competitions and embarrassing doping scandals that have tarnished his public image. Beyond the fact that many of his actions are ethically reprehensible, there is one thing that we all (even his staunchest haters) must recognize in Gatlin: his enormous resilience and an unusual ability to rise from the ashes.

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His professional career was nearly destroyed before it began. In 2001 he was banned for two years after testing positive for amphetamines during the U.S. Junior Championships. Gatlin appealed that ban, arguing that the positive test was due to medication he had been taking since childhood for attention deficit disorder. The IAAF relented and reduced the punishment to just one year.

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But Gatlin’s “resurrection” was soon to come. First he became world champion in the 60 meters at the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham. In 2004, he obtained the most important achievement of his career: the gold medal in the 100 meters at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, with a time of 9.85 seconds. In those games he also won a silver and a bronze medal.

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In 2005 he was proclaimed world champion in the 100 meters in Helsinki with a time of 9.88 seconds. He also won the 200 meters, becoming the second person in history to win the 100 and 200 meters in the same World Championships (the first was Maurice Greene in 1999).

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He was on top, but the joy would be short-lived. In 2006, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency sanctioned him after he tested positive for testosterone. A second sanction involved a lifetime ban from athletics, but Gatlin pledged to cooperate with the justice system by providing information that could help in the fight against doping. Then, the USADA sanctioned him for 8 years, but the US Court of Arbitration reduced the punishment to four.

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In 2010, despite being repudiated by the public, Gatlin would return to action. He won the bronze medal in the 100m at London 2012, but his great revenge came at the 2017 World Athletics Championships, when he beat Usain Bolt and won gold in the same event in front of an English crowd that had booed and scorned him.

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