RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Bolt vs. Gatlin II at the Olympics is off.
That’s because of a tough break for Justin Gatlin, whose right ankle injury flared up only minutes before his 200-meter semifinal heat on Wednesday.
United States’ Justin Gatlin, right, competes in a men’s 200-meter semifinal during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Gatlin tweaked his ankle in training way back at the beginning of the season but, ironically, really aggravated the problem about a week later doing a TV commercial for the Olympics.
It returned in Rio de Janeiro and dampened his hopes of a gold. It also cost him another showdown with Usain Bolt, who sailed through his heat and qualified for Thursday’s final.
United States’ Justin Gatlin competes in a men’s 200-meter semifinal during the athletics competitions of the 2016 Summer Olympics at the Olympic stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
“Come off the turn, and felt pain in the last 20 meters,” Gatlin said. “I looked over and I tried to hold on as long as I could.”
Wasn’t long enough.
Looking good in his race heading out of the bend, the American got hauled in and finished third. He had to wait for the official times, and missed out on a spot in the final by one as the ninth-fastest runner.
“I look at it like this: There are a lot of athletes who don’t make it to one Olympics,” Gatlin said. “I’ve been to three in a span of 12 years.”
He has an Olympic title in the 100, too, from 2004, a silver from the Rio Games, and a bronze from London four years ago.
This year’s Olympics were meant to be about Gatlin giving Bolt his sternest test, in both the 100 and 200.
Now, Rio looks likely to be a turning point for the 34-year-old Gatlin. The years have slipped by and instead of chasing Bolt, he’s aiming to be more like Kim Collins, the 40-year-old sprinter who’s still running, and ran in Rio. With that kind of longevity, maybe Gatlin will make the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“From this point on I’m taking it year by year,” Gatlin said. “I’m going to come out as strong as I can for each year. Someone like a Kim Collins gives me inspiration for Tokyo.”