The stunning image is now bouncing around the world: Usain Bolt, fastest man in human history, watching an American sprinter cross the finish line in front of him.
It happened Thursday, as the once-disgraced Justin Gatlin ran a 9.94 in the 100-meter final at the Rome Diamond League. Bolt, the two-time 100-meter Olympic gold medalist known for cruising to early leads and then coasting to record times, couldn't catch Gatlin from behind and was reduced to glancing to his right at the line. He later blamed a stumble out of the blocks.
"I got the perfect start but stumbled after five meters," Bolt told reporters. "It's just one of those things.
"I guess I need to be stronger at the end of the race. I think it just needs some time to get it all back together."
Bolt has been dealing with hamstring issues, which explains him running more than a third of a second off his own world-record pace of 9.58, but the story of the day (and thus the track season so far) is Gatlin, who has literally raced back from ignominy into the international limelight.
Gatlin, who got his start jumping fire hydrants in Brooklyn, ran into his country's good graces with a gold-medal winning 9.85 at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. His descent, however, was as quick as his rise, as he got an eight-year doping ban from the sport two years later when he tested positive for testosterone and other PEDs. His punishment was reduced to four years, otherwise he would still be out of racing now.
Gatlin tried out for three NFL teams during his exile, running a 4.2 in the 40-yard dash but getting no contract offers.
In 2010, he made his return to track and then proceeded to shock much of the track world by running a 9.8 to win the 100-meter Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., in 2012. That was the fastest time in recorded history for a man over the age of 30, and he beat his own record with a 9.79 to win bronze in London last year. Thursday's shocker cements the 31-year-old's improbable comeback onto the world's stage.
The specter of drug use will always trail Gatlin, but for at least one day, he is faster than the fastest man who ever lived.
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