When U.S. track star Justin Gatlin won the 100 meter finals event at the World Championships in August, he was booed. Gatlin had beaten the track world’s hero, Usain Bolt, and he’d beaten Usain Bolt after serving two controversial bans for doping. (The first incident he said was from an ADD medication he had taken since childhood. The second he said was the result of a massage therapist applying testosterone cream without his knowledge.)
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“I’m not just a runner. I’m not just a fast guy. I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor in life,” Gatlin says of his comeback.
Gatlin was 28 years old in 2010, when his second ban was lifted. In the seven years since, he’s notched his personal best time, stood on the Olympic podium in London and Rio, and yes, beaten Bolt for his second world champion title at the age of 33.
It seems like he may never stop running, regardless of his age.
“I’m not my sport, and I know I’m not going to run forever,” Gatlin says. “Once I do quit, I want to be able to pass the torch onto someone who’s going to be responsible.”
Gatlin’s new foundation will help kids by building youth clinics, giving them access to the resources they need to become the next generation of track stars. In the meantime, Gatlin is staying on top of his training and his diet so that at the Tokyo Olympics, he will once again be “the oldest, fastest man on top of that podium.” He talked to Esquire about his lifestyle change, his victory over Bolt, and his diet.
Why age won’t slow him down:
I didn’t look at age as being a reason to stop running or become slower. I actually said, “How can I evolve? What can I do in my life to be more consistent and sustain being fast.” I can’t be up playing video games at 3 o’clock in the morning. So I turned my diet and my regimen into a lifestyle. Usually in the off season, when you’re done, you’re just done. You eat hamburgers and pizza. You’re partying and having a good time. I’ve tried to tone it down more and have a connection with other athletes from different sports. One year I took up boxing and trained with Roy Jones Jr. Another year I tried going to cycling. Just to keep my body primed and ready to go, and not have that wear and tear of constantly running all the time.
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What triggered his lifestyle change:
When I came back into the sport [in 2010], I was over 200 lbs. I wasn’t in the best sprinting shape, should we say. My coach said, “Look, if you want to be the champion, you’re gonna have to look like the champion. We’re going to get you back down to 183,” which was the weight I was at the Olympic finals in ’04. He had to change my whole eating habits. He’s like, “Call me any time of the day, wherever you’re at, I don’t care, and make sure you’re staying on top of your eating regimen.” So I’m calling him at 11 o’clock at night, like, “Hey coach, can I have a piece of apple pie?” He’s like, “You should be asleep by now. Apple pie’s not good for you.” I’m like, “Yeah, but it has apples in it.” So that’s the way I was thinking. With portion control and things to stay away from, I was able to get back to 183 and beyond.
How sacrifice pushes him harder:
When I came back to the sport, I realized: If I want to run with these younger guys, I gotta be able to change certain things about me. I watched these guys running 100 meters in 9.7, 9.8 seconds. To consistently be shoulder-to-shoulder with them in championships and even win, I had to sacrifice some things. A lot of friends who I have who are not athletes, they’re out partying, drinking champagne, drinking beers at the club or the pub, and I’m sitting at home on the couch drinking a bottle of water and watching Netflix on the Fire Stick, getting ready for the next day. I have to go to sleep like a grandpa at 10 p.m. Those are the things you sacrifice for the moment, so that later on, once you’ve achieved all your goals, I’ll be able to throw everyone else a party.
On the backlash from beating Usain Bolt:
I never tried to get the advantage. I was actually more disadvantaged than anything. I was put in the outside line. I was forgotten about going into the finals. But I was able to prevail. To get that reaction—I think more people were shocked and surprised that it happened. It was a recipe already that was cooking. It was Usain Bolt’s last run. He always wins. He’s Usain Bolt. And to be able to be bested at his last race in basically his second home of London, I already knew I was going to get the backlash, I was going to be the black hat, I was going to be the villain. But we respect each other, because when we step on the line, we know that we have to run against each other. When he came over, he congratulated me, he told me good job, and he said, “If anybody deserves to win besides myself, it’s you.”
How that affects his training:
When you’re running track, you want to have tunnel vision anyway. Be focused on your lane. I don’t get the chance to have two halves or four quarters. I have nine seconds to get the job done. If I’m thinking about another person and their opinion of me, I’m distracted. Focus and training has actually pushed me. I’m a very competitive person, so when I hear the haters and naysayers, I’m like, “Let me try to prove you wrong today.”
What Justin Gatlin eats in a day:
“I like to be able to have a large vegetable intake. I try to be able to regulate my protein intake, my vegetables, my carbs, and still be able to function and not get tired.”
Breakfast: a 12- or 16-ounce protein shake with vegetables and whey
After practice: two Nutri-Grain bars
Lunch: a big salad and a large chicken breast
Dinner: a bowl of chili
What he had to give up: chocolate