By Gerald Imray
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
It was only a poster of the Jamaican in a shopping mall, but it’s another reminder _ as if Gatlin needs any _ of what his season is all about.
The posters and pictures of track’s No. 1 star actually help his focus, Gatlin said Wednesday, because he doesn’t have to conjure up mental images of the man he wants to dethrone this year as sprinting’s king.
“His picture’s everywhere,” Gatlin said. “I walk through the mall here and I see him everywhere. So I don’t have to imagine him everywhere, I see him all the time … I know he’s there and when I see him, I have to be ready for that.”
Thing is, it seems the next time Gatlin will see the Olympic and world champion for real will be in late August, at the world championships in Beijing. Sadly for track fans, their schedules before then don’t coincide.
Still, Gatlin is not getting tired of the talk surrounding a big-ticket showdown in both the 100 and 200 metres in China. Not at all. In Doha for his first 100 of the season on Friday night, Gatlin even called Bolt out for a 200-meter race before the worlds _ a teaser if you like. He also suggested the venue: Paris.
“That would be a great race to have. I’m definitely up for the challenge, up for the shot,” Gatlin said. He said it could be like the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, only “way more exciting and unfortunately less money.”
The American leaned, almost leapt, back in his chair when a reporter asked if Bolt was the reason the meeting probably wouldn’t happen until the worlds.
“I wouldn’t say (it’s) because of him. Don’t quote me on that,” Gatlin said.
Then, a hint of a smile.
Gatlin has the performances from last year to justify his swagger and his place as the No. 1 challenger to Bolt. The 33-year-old former Olympic champion won all 18 of his individual races in 2014, 15 in the 100 and three over 200. He also set world-best times of 9.77 seconds in the 100 and 19.68 in the 200.
Bolt, meanwhile, took time off for some rest and rehab. So, Gatlin’s taking the chance to play himself up as “the man,” at one point calling Bolt _ maybe unintentionally _ a challenger.
“I’m ready. I feel fit. I feel ready to go. So, whoever the challengers are, if it’s Usain or any other challengers, I’m ready to face them,” Gatlin said, also laying out some pretty big targets on how fast he wants to run this year over 100 metres.
“I’m thinking low 9.8 to 9.7 (seconds), and hopefully 9.6 as well. Hopefully going out there and running very fast this season and dominating on a higher level. Not just wins, but dominating with fast times.”
But caution’s needed too, maybe? Anything other than a win for Gatlin in Doha _ the “tone-setter” for his season, he called it _ would cut him down to size. And he’s now a guy everyone wants to beat.
“I’ve had targets on my back for so long in my career that I’m used to it,” he said.