DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Our next guest was once the fastest man in the world. Justin Gatlin sprinted to Olympic gold in 2004. But in 2006, he failed a drug test and was banned from his sport for four years. Justin Gatlin is now competing again. And as part of our Olympics Countdown series, he joined us this week from Clermont, Florida after a morning workout.
Justin, welcome to the program.
JUSTIN GATLIN: Ah, thank you for having me.
GREENE: So what was going on the track? What were you working on?
GATLIN: Oh, just working on starts, working on some technical stuff. Just getting my top-end speed together for these dogfights out here on this rubber.
GREENE: Dogfights on the rubber, so you're out there with a bunch of other competitors who are going to be going to the Olympics?
GATLIN: Oh, yeah. One of my teammates is Terandy(ph) Martinez, who was a silver medalist in the 200-meters behind Bolt - Usain Bolt - at the 2008 Olympics.
GREENE: Oh, so some of these top runners, you guys are just going at it to get ready.
GATLIN: Oh yeah, definitely. It's great to have great sparring partners, men and female. It helps you get a gauge on where you're at and once you go into championships.
GREENE: You've been away from the sport for a few years. I mean are you running as fast as you were four years ago?
GATLIN: I believe so. I just came back from Istanbul, Turkey for the 2012 Indoor World Championships and I won the gold there against the rest of the world. And...
GATLIN: Thank you very much. And I ran the same time, which is 6:46, that's equivalent to when I was 19 years old and I won my first indoor title. So...
GATLIN: ...I think I'm back on top.
GREENE: Well, has the sport changed at all during your absence? Do you notice anything different?
GATLIN: Oh, no. You know what? It's just the evolution of sports; a lot more faster runners. You know, usually back in 2003, 2004, you may have like three guys who were the fastest. Now you have a whole lineup of maybe seven or eight guys who have the opportunity to medal and get on the podium.
GREENE: Justin Gatlin, we mentioned that you've served your time, so to speak, for doping. And I've see that you talk about that as, you know, a difficult period. I mean going through even some bouts of depression. Can you talk about that for a little bit?
GATLIN: Yeah. You know, it was a journey for me. You know, people say it's a rocky road. It was more like a mountain climb back for me, mentally and physically, to get back to where I am now. But I've had a lot of people on my corner. Strangers that have never met me - I've never met them - and just want to see me back out there running again.
GREENE: Is there any stigma that you have to deal with? I mean you say it's a dogfight out on the rubber. You're out there with other competitors - I mean they all know you've had to take some time off. I mean is there a stigma that you've kind of have to fight?
GATLIN: You know, that kind of stuff is going to follow you the majority of your career. You know, you just have to combat it with showing every body that I have a God-given talent and that's what I've come out here to do. You know, to show anybody I'm still a champion. I still can go out there. I can win gold medals. I can get on the podium and I can win in grand fashion.
GREENE: All right, so the U.S. team selects its runners after the qualifying trials coming up in June. Do you think this is your final shot at an Olympic?
GATLIN: I don't think so. I think that everyone is like, you know, he comes back. I think a lot of people are like, oh, he only has may be one more Olympics in him. I think the time that I spent away from track and field has given me a lot of shelf life. You know, I don't have any injuries. You have a lot of top sprinters who have injuries right now. None of that has really happened to me. Right now, it's just getting my mental back in order, lose, shed the pounds and gain my confidence back.
GREENE: You're saying maybe the time off was even a blessing, in a strange way.
GATLIN: I think so, definitely.
GREENE: Well, Justin, best of luck to you as you head towards the qualifying trials and perhaps the Olympics.
GATLIN: I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
GREENE: That's U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin, who was speaking to us from the National Training Center in Clermont, Florida.
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