Gatlin: One eye on Doha, the other on Bolt
One eye on taking the first strides to another dominant season and the other on a certain Jamaican superstar.
Justin Gatlin's triumphant return to the top of the sprinting pile has brought him some amount of favour in a community, which is not quite sure whether it is to accept him back into the fold with open arms.
Nonetheless, after an unbeaten run on the circuit last season, and some pretty explosive showings at the IAAF World Relays, Gatlin returns to Doha, looking to extend his streak and build up a sweat ahead of a potential clash with Usain Bolt later on this season - a clash, he knows, will give him a chance of confirming that he is in fact 'The Man' to beat in 2015.
In 2006, Gatlin equalled Asafa Powell's then 100m World Record of 9.77 seconds here in Doha - that is extremely unlikely to happen at today's IAAF Diamond League opener in the Qatari capital, but the American admits to still thinking fondly of that mark, he is certainly keeping one eye on this season's other targets - World Championships gold and the prized scalp of Bolt, the World and Olympic champion.
"I always think about the world record and that is why Doha is such a special place for me. I am the same animal, different beast," Gatlin said, in the build-up to his first 100m race of the season. That performance in 2006 has since been annulled after testing positive for a banned substance.
"Each year, I have started from here (Doha), I have gone on to do really well for the rest of the year. To be able to come and set the tone for the rest of the year is great and Doha has the right atmosphere and climate for great sprinting, so hopefully, we can see some special times on Friday night," added Gatlin, who won all 15 of his 100m and three 200m races in 2014. He also ended the year as the fastest athlete in both events with times of 9.77 and 19.68.
Here, Gatlin will face fellow American Mike Rodgers, who handed the baton to him at the IAAF World Relays in The Bahamas, where the US beat Jamaica - anchored by Usain Bolt, for the first time in seven years. Also set to try and break Gatlin's unbeaten streak are the ageless Kim Collins, Keston Bledman, who has already gone 9.94 this year, Brit James Dasaolu, local boy Femi Ogunode and Jamaican Nesta Carter, who ran 9.98 in Kingston last week.
It's a field that will keep Gatlin honest, but the American knows very well that his true test will come whenever and wherever he faces Bolt next - hopefully, he says, before this August's IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China.
"Running against (Usain) Bolt would be a great race to have. I am definitely up for the challenge, up for the shot. It could be like the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight, only way more exciting and, unfortunately, less money," Gatlin joked.