Athletics: Zika not a concern for Justin Gatlin ahead of Rio

AFP , Friday 3 Jun 2016

Justin Gatlin
Justin Gatlin of the US reacts after winning the men's 100 metres athletics event during the Seiko Golden Grand Prix at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki on May 8, 2016 (Photo: AFP)

Justin Gatlin has insisted he holds no fears over the Zika virus as he heads to Rio for a street 100m race on Sunday, adamant that he would be back for the Olympics no matter what.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has ruled out any change in the timing or location of the Olympic Games, shunning a call by doctors and scientists to shift the event over the Zika virus.

The mosquito-borne Zika, which can also be sexually transmitted, can cause birth defects, including a devastating syndrome known as microcephaly in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains.

Despite a number of sportspeople deciding not to take part in the Rio Games even if selected, Gatlin said he would have no hesitation.

"I guess I get my first crack at it because I now leave for Rio," Gatlin said after edging fellow American Ameer Webb to 100m victory at Thursday's Diamond League meeting in a season's best 9.93 seconds.

"We don't get a chance to do a final four or a Superbowl, the Olympics are our championships and at this point in time, if Zika is not going to kill me, I'm going to be down there.

"It's such a mysterious disease or illness or whatever you want to call it, a lot of people don't understand it. You've just got to go down there and do what you've got to do.

"Focus on things outside your power and you're going to be distracted."

Gatlin will first have to negotiate the notoriously tough US Olympic trials, in which the depth in strength of American sprinting is showcased.

"Everyone's ready for the trials. The US trials are going to be a dogfight, someone like Ameer will be trying to punch his ticket, he'll be ready and will show up," the 34-year-old said.

Gatlin produced a savage dip at the line to edge Webb by just one-hundredth of a second, clocking a season's best.

- '97 percent' -

The 2004 Olympic 100m champion, who went on to win double sprint gold at the Helsinki worlds in 2005 before testing positive for testosterone and serving a second ban between 2006-10, said he was almost over his ankle injury.

"It's getting there, I'm about 97 percent fit. It's healed so I don't feel pain but when you're rehabbing you don't get the strength to get off track and you can see that at the end of my race."

The Florida-based sprinter admitted that he took inspiration from evergreen Kim Collins, the St Kitts and Nevis athlete who won the 2003 world 100m title but this season, at the age of 40, ran 9.93sec in the Bottrop 100m last month.

"At my age, as you get older, it gets a little hazy about how long can I go," Gatlin said. "People like Kim Collins still puts down good times.

"If my son wants to see me in 2020 in Tokyo, I'll take a crack at it, but right now I'm just taking it year by year, having an exciting time with it, loving it.

"Once you get to 30, as a man or woman, you think about kids, settling down, you have other priorities that mean you don't stay focused on just track.

"Getting older, you've got to train smart. When you're young you can beat your body up and bounce back the next day."

Turning to Usain Bolt, who trumped Gatlin at last year's world championships in Beijing when the American was heavily fancied to upset the Jamaican 100 and 200m world record holder, he played down his presence.

"Is Bolt a nightmare for me?" Gatlin asked. "No, he's a competitor. Plus there are six more competitors in every race."

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