Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Science and the Gatlin stigma

Published:Thursday | May 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Justin Gatlin (left) of the United States runs to win the men’s 100m race at the IAAF Diamond League in the Qatari capital Doha, on Friday, May 15. At right is Kim Collins of St Kitts.

Every now and again, science comes out with assertions I can't wrap my head around. The latest one is that Justin Gatlin could still be benefiting from illegal performance enhancers.

That's the conclusion drawn from a recent claim that drug use could boost performance for years.

Based on a 2013 University of Oslo study done on mice, the claim was just what the anti-Gatlin crowd wanted. To make matters worse, the 33-year-old Gatlin is in sparkling form.

The trouble with this theory is that Gatlin was banned for a doping offence in 2006. While substances do linger in the body, it's hard to believe that the stuff he was found to be using could still be powering his speed nine years later. I just can't wrap my head around that one.

Had he spent just a year or two away from the sport, then the lingering effect of previous illegal enhancers might have helped. His comeback started slowly. At the 2011 World Championships - after a four-year ban - he was a shadow of the man who won the 2004 Olympics and the 2005 Worlds. A heavyset Gatlin could only muster a time of 10.23 seconds in the 100-metre semi-finals.

His best 100-metre time of the year was 9.95.

There's also a chance he has benefited from four years of rest. Add a burning desire to make up for lost time and you have a combination that has perhaps spurred him to win a 2012 Olympic bronze medal behind the incomparable Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake in London with a time of 9.79 seconds, and the silver in the 2013 Worlds behind Bolt. That's my guess.

Still under suspicion

The Oslo study postulates the steroid boost re-energises when training resumes.

Even before the claim, detractors were wagging their fingers. His undefeated 2014 season didn't sit well with them. It's a guess that his super 9.77/19.71 100/200m double in Brussels didn't put him in their good books either.

For me, this new Gatlin is innocent until proven guilty. By the same measure, those claims of enduring performance boosts from drug use seem to need more data. I might be alone on this, but I hope for his sake that Gatlin never runs into trouble again. The boo birds will just say, 'I told you so'.

By the way, the study says the steroid boost can last for decades. By that measure, Gatlin won't slow down anytime soon. Wrap your head around that.

n Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.