Africa-Press – Kenya. Athletics may not need a marquee personality with the speed and charisma to take over from Usain Bolt as fresh faces at the top of the sprint podium can be equally exciting for fans, former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin said on Thursday.
Jamaican Bolt kept the sport afloat in an era blighted by doping scandals as he won sprint doubles at three consecutive Olympics and multiple world titles before retiring in 2017.
“We’re so used to having a marquee athlete,” Gatlin told reporters in India. “But now we have the opportunity to sit back and really watch athletes blossom and kind of nurture them, cheer them on… see exactly what they can do.”
Gatlin, who retired in February after a career that included the 2004 Olympic gold, four world titles and two doping bans, said there was no shortage of contenders in the current era and pointed to last year’s Tokyo Games 100m final as an example.
Lamont Marcell Jacobs claimed an upset victory, becoming the first Italian to take the most coveted title in athletics in a European record time of 9.80 seconds in the first final of the post-Bolt era.
“But almost from lane one to lane eight, it was anybody’s race. For me, that’s exciting,” American Gatlin said.
“Of course, we want to see two titans clash at the top. But to have eight athletes at the start line and not know who will win… it puts me on the edge of my seat. I want to see a star being born… that’s what you’re going to see.”
Gatlin said Jacobs will be among the favourites at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon in July after the Italian backed up his Olympic success with gold in 60m at the indoor worlds this year.
“Jacobs looks great,” Gatlin, who is in Bengaluru to promote the TCS World 10K run, added. “He’s the most relaxed sprinter I’ve ever seen.
“You have others… like Trayvon Bromell and Christian Coleman, but right now it’s a grab bag. Whoever is going to show up on that day, whoever is going to put together the best race because all of them are running around the same times.
“So it’s about when that gun goes off and who completes the race the best.”
Gatlin said the future was also bright for 18-year-old Erriyon Knighton, the American who broke Usain Bolt’s under-20 200m world record last year and was fourth in the Olympic final.
He also heaped praise on compatriot Noah Lyles, who took bronze in the men’s 200m final.
“You look at what’s going to happen next,” Gatlin added. “You had the Olympics last year, the world championships this year and then you’ll have another Olympics, another worlds.
“It gives the opportunity for someone like Erriyon and Noah to solidify their greatness in a matter of four years. It took someone like myself a decade or two, to be able to show greatness.”