RIO DE JANEIRO — Five days after American swimmer Lilly King said she doesn’t think he should be allowed to run at the Olympics because of previous doping violations, Justin Gatlin responded sharply to her comments.
“I don’t even know who Lilly King is,” the 2004 Olympic gold medalist said after breezing to a victory in his opening-round 100 meters heat Saturday. “I mean she does swimming, not track and field, so I’m not worried about that.
“I’ve come back and done what I need to do. I work hard like everyone else does and I’ve gotten tested just like everyone else has.”
Gatlin, 34, is maybe the biggest threat to Usain Bolt’s bid to win a third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters. However, Gatlin’s doping history has some convinced he shouldn’t be competing in Rio.
In 2001, Gatlin tested positive for amphetamines, though arbitrators determined he had used them to treat attention deficit disorder. Then two years after winning gold at the Athens Games, Gatlin tested positive for excessive testosterone levels and served a four-year ban as a result.
Gatlin was dragged into the doping drama in Rio in the wake of King’s finger-wagging criticism of Yulia Efimova, her Russian rival who won an appeal to compete in the breaststroke despite a previous doping violation. When a reporter asked King if Gatlin too should not be able to compete because of his previous offenses, she did not waver in her response.
“Do I think people who have been caught for doping offenses should be on the team? No, they shouldn’t,” King said.
Gatlin has tried to shift the conversation away from his checkered past with his performance on the track.
The American won a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics in the 100 and took silver at last year’s world championships in both the 100 and 200. His time of 10.01 seconds on Saturday was the fastest of the day, six hundredths of a second ahead of Bolt.
The 100 semifinals will be held Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, with the final taking place at 9:25.
“It’s the best my body has felt the whole season,” Gatlin said. “I feel good. I’m going to get ready for tomorrow.”
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