Bengaluru: Former American sprinter and 2004 Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin has several nuggets of advice for both upcoming professional athletes in India and current amateur runners participating in the TCS World 10K Bengaluru 2022, being held on 15 May 2022. With over 20 years of experience as a legendary sprinter, Gatlin has several accolades to his name including winning Olympic Gold in the 100 m in Athens in 2004 to the Gold in the 100 m at the Beijing World Championships in 2017, to winning 4x100 m relay Gold at the Doha World Championships in 2019.
This year, the theme for the TCS World 10K Bengaluru is to #ComeAlive. To be alive - is to be capable of more than you imagined, do something meaningful together, believe in yourself, make it count and to finding your inner joy. “This is the 14th year and the success in this event is here in Bengaluru. Be your biggest fan and biggest critic and believe in yourself. Run for yourself and run for your cause.” said Gatlin during a chat when asked about advice for participants at the TCS World 10K Bengaluru.
For Gatlin, who retired earlier this year on his 40th birthday, the journey to find himself after hanging up his spikes has been one filled with anticipation and nervousness. “Now it’s like almost a rebirth or restart for me, finding something new, a new passion, in the sport of track and field or sports in general.” When asked about his announcement, he labelled it “a bittersweet feeling” and the idea of his legacy being great “a double-edged sword” where he knows that it exists and yet it feels “normal” for him. “I didn’t have much pressure growing up to be the no.1 athlete. I was able to take my time to evolve and grow and understand what it meant to be successful.”
Gatlin is no stranger to taking breaks in his career, with his two World Championships gold medals in the 100m, beating Usain Bolt for the title the second time, coming in 2005 and 2017, 12 years apart. “[In 2017] I had to find myself when I went into that race. I just felt – I’m going to go out there, I’m going to have fun with it and I’m going to compete at a level where it’s fun for me and take away all that pressure.”
The pressure he refers to comes from needing to be on top of your game, especially in individual sports like track and field, where nearly everybody from your entourage to your fans are counting on you. “As athletes, you have to learn to evolve. The habits that you had at 19, can’t be the same habits that you have at 29 years old.”
But the joy from running, especially as short a distance as 100m, is something indescribable according to Gatlin. “It almost feels like you’re in the Matrix – everything slows down. Because when the gun goes off, it’s all a blur – you can hear yourself breathing, your heart racing, the roar of the crowd. It’s a beautiful feeling to have to run at such a high velocity of speed. You want to be able to replicate it over and over again.”
Although it’s his first visit to India, he has already attended an Indian wedding – his own. “My wife is part Indian, and she wanted to celebrate her heritage at our wedding. So we had an American wedding one day and the next day, we had an Indian wedding.” The first activity he did in Bengaluru was get a taste of quality South Indian food, which he deemed as some of the best food he’s had. “It’s so flavourful and delicious, from vegetables to meat; a [definite] plus for me.”
The conversation turned to advice that he may have for Indian athletes, with whom he has conversations on occasion through social media. “It’s not an even playing field when it comes to coaching or having the right resources. [But] I truly believe that there are Indian athletes out there who have the ability to be a gold medalist. They just need to be able to go out there and really learn their sport.”
Gatlin points to the recent success of Tokyo 2020 Javelin Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra and urges Indian track and field athletes to draw lessons from there. “If you try to use every resource that you have, you won’t feel like you’ve let yourself down. Don’t think because wherever you came from that you cannot be successful. No matter if you make an Olympic team, you gave your heart and you put your heart out there to be as successful as you could be.”
The USD $210,000 World Athletics Elite Label Race will witness some of the world’s finest distance runners on the roads of Bengaluru as well as thousands of mass participation competitors from across India.