Justin Gatlin has moved to head off the wave of criticism directed at him during the World Athletics Championships by releasing letters that reveal the extent to which he cooperated with US anti-doping investigators and apologised for his own offences.
The letters, which the Guardian has seen, show that Gatlin told the International Association of Athletics Federations in 2010 that he had “great remorse” for his past mistakes, which had led to testing positive for the banned steroid testosterone four years earlier, and that he was determined to atone by doing more to promote anti-doping in sport.
He also reminded the IAAF of his “unique and extensive” cooperation with the United States federal investigator Jeff Novitzky – who later helped bring down Lance Armstrong – and said he tried to atone for his mistakes by educating young athletes to “take personal responsibility for their actions on and off the track”.
In one letter, which was addressed directly to the IAAF’s then president, Lamine Diack, and his senior vice-president, Sergey Bubka, Gatlin wrote: “I am sincerely remorseful and it continues to be my mission to be a positive role model mentoring to athletes to avoid the dangers and public and personal humiliation of doping. And the harm it brings to the sport of athletics.”
Gatlin added: “I have cooperated fully with the United States federal investigation to clean up our sport of track and field working towards it becoming drug free,” before reiterating that he wanted to “rid our sport of drugs and all those who help supply them”.
In another letter, which was written to support Gatlin’s plea to be able to return to the track after his four-year ban, United States Track and Field told the IAAF that Gatlin had gone into colleges to speak to young people “about personal responsibility, the consequence of anti-doping rules … and the importance of training and competing clean”. USATF added that during his suspension Gatlin had phoned regularly to ask its officials when the next outreach event with young athletes would take place.
The move is an attempt by Gatlin’s camp to emphasise the complexities around his case and correct what they see as a misleading impression of the American sprinter, who won silver medals behind Usain Bolt in Beijing in the 100m and 200m. The BBC commentators Michael Johnson and Steve Cram have been particularly critical of Gatlin, with Johnson insisting: “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. He hasn’t even said: ‘I’m against doping in the sport..”’
Cram, winner of the 1500m at the inaugural world championships in 1983, said Bolt had “saved the sport” with his victory over Gatlin, adding: “Bolt is popular because of his lack of arrogance, Gatlin has been unpopular because of his lack of contrition.”
During the world championships Gatlin’s camp decided it was best to say nothing about his past attempts to make amends because he wanted to focus on the track. But having realised that the issue is not going away, they have decided to confront it head on by releasing to the Guardian letters they and USATF sent to the IAAF.
Gatlin’s camp are also frustrated with the IAAF, which they believe has failed to publicly support their man, even though they know he has expressed his remorse. Sebastian Coe, the organisation’s new president, said the thought of Gatlin winning a gold medal in Beijing made him feel “queasy. As Gatlin’s agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, told the Guardian: “When people say he never apologised, I say: ‘You haven’t done your homework.’ And the IAAF, who know this, have never come out and said anything, which I am very sad about. Justin has apologised. What is he supposed to do, go to every country and say sorry?”
When asked whether Gatlin could be trusted after his startling performances in 2015, which have included personal bests in the 100m and 200m, Nehemiah insisted his man was clean. “I have always said to Usada and Wada: ‘Come and test us, day or night,’” he added of the US and World Anti-Doping Agencies. “That’s all we can do, make ourselves available and, if that’s not good enough for people, that’s just the world we live in.
“In the last few years Justin has focused on getting his weight right and getting his technique on where it needed to be and starting to run more efficiently. We don’t know with certainty anyone, who hasn’t tested positive, is not doing anything. The good thing about our testing is that it does catch people. Justin Gatlin did get caught doping. That is a fact. So we do catch people and I am happy about that.”
Nehemiah, a former 110m hurdles world record holder, also admitted that he had told Gatlin not to speak to the media about his past because he wanted him to focus purely on running while in Beijing. “Justin is very charming, personable and bright,” he said. “But at some point you have to back away. He said: ‘I can’t be beat down by this every single day. I came here to run, this is not fun for me.’ So I told him: ‘If anyone is going to continue to talk about the past, let’s not talk to them.’”
Gatlin’s performances in Beijing were overshadowed by debate as to whether the American should be considered to have redeemed himself or should continue to be seen as a pariah. The debate was particularly lively in Britain, where Gatlin is not invited to meetings because of his two doping bans.
However, Gatlin’s camp believe the public may not be aware that his first ban was for trace amphetamines that were found in his system and were from medication he had been taking for 10 years to treat attention deficit disorder. They also believe that Gatlin’s detractors have forgotten that Novitzky testified during the Balco investigation that he was the only track and field athlete to provide undercover assistance willingly during the five-year investigation into the San Francisco laboratory’s use of steroids in sports.
After he competed in the 4x100m relay on Saturday Gatlin admitted he hoped the public would see him as a human being rather than a drugs cheat after the world championships. He added: “Obviously I am the most criticised athlete in track and field but at the end of the day I am a runner and that’s all I can be.”
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