Gatlin and Co. ready to face Bolt
EUGENE — Justin Gatlin is still blazing fast at 33 years old. Same with Tyson Gay at 32 and Wallace Spearmon at 30.
Reaching an age when sprinters contemplate retirement, these 30-somethings are heading to Beijing for the world championships with one task in mind: Upstage Usain Bolt. Not an easy proposition, even if the Jamaican world record-holder appears vulnerable.
Gatlin's never run better, coasting to the 200-meter title at the U.S. championships in a meet-record and personal-best 19.57 seconds. Gay captured the 100 crown at nationals as he rounds into form following his return last summer from a one-year doping suspension and Spearmon has recovered from sports hernia surgery in September.
The American sprint coalition looks sharp, while Bolt appears off his game.
But that's been said before.
"I want Bolt at his best," Gatlin said.
Careful, he's still the defending world champion in both events, even if his times so far this season have been more pedestrian than Bolt-like. At worlds, Gatlin will no doubt be the favorite.
After all, Gatlin hasn't been beaten in the 100 in quite a while and has been honing his 200 form in practice, showing it off at nationals when he ran his blistering time on fresh legs. Gatlin didn't run the 100 since he had an automatic bye to worlds courtesy of his 2014 Diamond League title.
"Bolt is not up to par right now. He's even said that," said Gatlin, a polarizing figure who returned to track in 2010 after serving a four-year doping suspension. "People want to see him get up to par and that's what everybody is focused on. Then, we'll worry about who's the guy to beat and the guy who's going to get beat."
Lately, the sprinters from the Caribbean island have been dominating the U.S. on the big stage. The last time an American male won the 100 or 200 at worlds was when Gay took both titles in 2007.
Spearmon, who finished third in the 200, expects to see the Bolt of old at worlds. So does Gay.
"Bolt's always said to the media that he's a championship performer," said Gay, who skipped the 200 at nationals. "When he shows up at championships, he's always ready."
There are some younger legs on the sprint squad, too, with 19-year-old Baylor standout Trayvon Bromell making the team in the 100 and Gatlin's training partner, 25-year-old Isiah Young, earning a spot in the 200.
Might the Americans end the Jamaicans' hold on the world sprint titles?
"You never know when you get to the line, what's going to happen or who's not going to show up," Gatlin said.
A few things learned after a scorching week at U.S. championships:
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Allyson Felix has a dilemma over whether to run the 200 or 400 at worlds. It would be hard for her to do both in Beijing, given the tight turnaround between events. Felix's signature event is the 200, winning Olympic gold in 2012. She didn't run the event at nationals — she had an automatic bye to worlds — and focused on the 400, taking the title with a lean at the finish. Should she skip the 400 at worlds, her spot would likely go to fourth-place finisher Francena McCorory. Felix plans to make a decision soon.
TUMULTUOUS WEEK: Galen Rupp tuned out the distractions of doping allegations on the track, winning the 10,000 meters and earning a spot in the 5,000 with a third-place finish. Rupp found himself at the center of a controversy after a story by ProPublica and BBC earlier this month contained allegations that coach Alberto Salazar encouraged him and others to skirt anti-doping rules. "I've got nothing to hide," Rupp said.
RISING SPRINT STARS: Tori Bowie won the 100 and University of Oregon standout Jenna Prandini captured the 200. "My coach has been telling me this whole year, 'You can do it. You can do it,'" Prandini said.
NOTABLE ABSENCES: For the first time in a decade, 40-year-old Bernard Lagat missed earning a spot at worlds. He finished 10th in the 5,000. "I really wanted to make the team for my kids," said Lagat, who won the 5,000 title at the 2007 worlds. "It's going to be a strange feeling (not competing at worlds)." Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross didn't earn a spot in the 400.
IT'S ON: Trey Hardee had a stellar decathlon performance with world record-holder Ashton Eaton sitting out the event since he had a bye to worlds. The stage is set for their friendly rivalry in Beijing.