According to the gospel of journalism, we're not allowed to root for something or somebody, so keep this quiet: Since I have more than a few gray hairs these days, I always pull for the seasoned guys.
OK, the old guys.
So I'm ecstatic over this Justin Gatlin thing.
By track and field standards, Gatlin is an old, old, OLD guy, but somehow, he got his 35-year-old legs churning fast enough for 100 meters last weekend in Sacramento, Calif., at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships to edge Christian Coleman, the leader among an expanding group of young and gifted sprinters for Team USA. In case you're wondering, Coleman just turned 21 three months ago. Which means Gatlin whipped somebody nearly half his age, and historians for USA Track & Field can't recall an older 100-meter champion than this blur from Pensacola, Fla.
I love it, and so should you. Now consider this: Sports Illustrated said Carl Lewis was the "Olympian of the Century" after he spent four Summer Games through 1996 in the long jump, individual sprint races and relays winning 10 medals. He's the best American sprinter of all time. Come to think of it, he's the best sprinter of all time, period. While he has nine Olympic gold medals, the lordly Usain Bolt has eight. Plus, Lewis owns 19 gold medals overall, two silver and two bronze from a combination of Olympic, World Championship and Pan American games. With the Justin Gatlins of the world only a turn of the century away, Lewis retired at (wait for it . . . wait for it . . .) 35. Yep, we're talking about the same age that featured Gatlin zipping through a headwind toward the tape in 9.95 seconds ahead of Coleman at 9.98 and Christopher Belcher at 10.06. That trio will fly to London in August for the world championships in search of conquering Bolt, currently the unbeatable foe from Jamaica.
Bolt isn't a sprinting novice, by the way. He's 30, but Gatlin is five years older and running as if he's 10 years younger.
I'm just shocked this Gatlin thing isn't getting more headlines. Then again, he did have issues in the past involving banned substances. So I'm sure those whispers are getting louder by the moment. He was suspended from international competition for two years in 2001 for the possible use of amphetamines, but his appeal worked when he said his negative test came from medicine for an attention deficit problem. Then came his eight-year ban in 2006 for unacceptable levels of testosterone in his system. He was partially successful after another appeal, and he was back running in four years.
Given the slew of drug tests Gatlin has taken since then, you have to think he was able to blow past Coleman, the rest of the field in Sacramento and Father Time without all of that extra help.
"It's surreal," Gatlin told reporters after his upset of Coleman, the University of Tennessee athlete who burst into stardom this year following victories in the NCAA indoor dashes of 60 and 200 meters before he conquered the outdoor dashes of 100 and 200. The last person to manage that quadruple accomplishment was another Tennessee sprinter in 2002, and his name was Justin Gatlin. That was the younger Gatlin, not the one who keeps showing that age is just for discounts at movie theaters and obituaries.
"To be honest with you guys, I know I'm in the twilight of my career," Gatlin said to those same reporters at the USATF Outdoor Championships. "And today, listening to the announcer name all of my accomplishments that I've done, I feel accomplished. So I think I'm balancing accomplishments and hunger, and I've got to be able to find that hunger again. These guys are just starting their careers off. I've got to make sure that I stay hungry and be able to say, 'This is something I want to fight for.'"
Spoken like a true old-timer, um, veteran. Just last year, Gatlin became the oldest U.S. sprinter to run in the Summer Games since 1912. Once the competition began, he captured a silver medal as the oldest person ever to grab an Olympic medal during a non-relay. There also was June 2012, when he won the 100 meters during the U.S. Olympic Trials in 9.80 seconds for the fastest time ever of anybody over 30.
It's hard to imagine that Gatlin once sought an NFL career as a wide receiver during his second suspension, but the Houston Texans and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said "No " in a hurry.
To the delight of the track gods, Gatlin returned to sprinting, and who knows? He could run forever. I mean, Kevin Willis retired too soon from the NBA at 44, because 10 years later, he still is chiseled enough to help somebody in the post. George Blanda kept throwing touchdown passes between game-winning kicks for the Oakland Raiders despite nearly qualifying for AARP. Did Gordie Howe ever quit skating? Even though Bartolo Colon is allowing more than a touchdown per game every time he takes the mound for the Atlanta Braves, he has time to rebound, especially since he is a whole 11 months away from his 45th birthday. When you're in your early 20s as a women's tennis player, you're ancient, and Serena Williams is 35 and pregnant, but she remains potent.
Oh, and Ichiro, Ichiro. Ichiro. He wants to play in the Major Leagues until he's 50, and I'm upset he isn't talking about 60.
Realistically, Gatlin won't sprint at 60.