Victory over Bolt boosted Gatlin’s self-belief
The Italian city of Rome holds a special place in the heart of American sprinter Justin Gatlin, who not only has three consecutive wins here at the Golden Gala IAAF Diamond League meet, but also enjoyed one of his most famous victories.
Gatlin, who clocked 9.75 - his second-fastest time ever - on his way to winning the 100m here last year, also went 9.91 for his win the year before.
However, it was his close 9.94 to 9.95 win over Jamaican sprinting icon, Usain Bolt, in 2013, that he says really took his confidence to a higher level.
Speaking to journalists ahead of today's 100m assignment inside the familiar Stadio Olimpico, Gatlin singled out his win over the six-time Olympic champion, Bolt, as one of his most fulfilling, noting that it was this victory that really convinced him that he was ready to challenge the Jamaican.
"It's about pure competition, so to be able to get that victory over Usain (Bolt) at that particular time in a race that wasn't really rated as such a big race, I think it was still a big win. It was kinda like a launching pad and it told me that I could get back to the top and start dominating again," said Gatlin.
Gatlin also admitted that he was hurt by constantly being labelled as a villain in the sport and believes criticism around his return after a doping ban is unfair.
"... I understand the media. The media wants to create and be able to make story lines more sensationalised. For me to be viewed upon a certain way when I'm just a runner like everyone else; I get up and train like everyone else - it's hurtful to be looked at as a villain because that's not how I portray myself, that's not how my son portrays me, so when I come out, I come to give my best," he said.
"When I go to meets, I stop and sign every autograph. I take every picture I can. I try to give back to communities as much as I can, and I don't think a villain does that," added Gatlin.
Still, the sprinter says he is pleased with the way things have been going for him so far this season after coming out on top on his five 100m starts to date.
"It's been a pretty good start. It's been a softer start, than last year, but it's all designed to be that way. With a softer start I still seem to have a good record going into the season, so hopefully, I can carry that on," Gatlin said.
"Training has been good. I'm getting ready for the trials. After Rome, I go to a street race in Rio, and then I will shut my season down for now and get ready for some more speed endurance, and I will open up in the 200m at the trials," he shared.
Gatlin will race today against the likes of sub-10 athletes Akani Simbine, Femi Ogunode and Jimmy Vicaut, who is competing in his first 100m race of the season.