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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

Justin Gatlin is an excellent example to us athletes (really)...

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Justin Gatlin, USA sprinter, won the 100m World Championship yesterday. He is perhaps the ultimate bad boy of athletics of this era - having served bans for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, not once, but twice.

This win was even more significant for viewers and lovers or sport, because he beat Usain Bolt, in Bolt's last race.

Gatlin came out onto the track for the final to loud booing from the audience. Bolt came out to the biggest cheers. The other sprinters received lesser cheers, but were all cheered.

The final was all set to be the last crowning moment for Bolt, who stated verbally and in his body language all week, that he was ready and no one was a threat to him taking the 100m title once more.

When the starter's pistol went off, the race started as usual, with Bolt getting one of the poorer starts, as it takes him a while longer than others to get his long levers moving. The middle phase of the race showed him staying with the pack. This doesn't usually happen, he normally runs through and away from them from the mid-race to the end. Viewers could hardly believe what they were seeing - Bolt was not leaving all others behind. He wasn't even ahead. Shockingly to us, he didn't win. Bolt finished THIRD. The bad boy of sprinting, had won.

(More details about the race and Justin Gatlin can be found on the BBC website.)

While this is not how it was 'supposed to' finish, this is how it did finish. Like some twist in a TV drama, where just before episode or series finishes, there is a major upset to what we expected would happen, this was our upset in the Bolt story.

I'm not going to get into the drugs issue here. What I do want to highlight, is how good an example Gatlin gives us of self-confidence and race execution. Gatlin has received a lot of criticism and negative reactions from a wide variety of people. The crowd in the stadium really booed him only moments before the race. Despite this, he followed his usual processes, getting ready to run his best 100m, controlling his emotions enough to execute his race and believing that he can win. And then he did exactly that. He provided us with an excellent example of self-belief, of having a plan and sticking to it, of shutting out the negativity, the distractions or 'noise.' He also believed in himself enough and wanted it enough to really go for it in a 100m against Bolt. He wasn't running for one of the minor places, or hoping to podium. For him, it wasn't Bolt's race until he sees who crosses that finish line first.

For the rest of us:

  • How easily are we distracted, deflated and swayed by what other people think?

  • How much do we struggle to bounce-back from lesser setbacks (than very public drug bans)?

  • Would we benefit from working on our confidence a bit more?

  • Do our race day plans help us to manage race day setbacks?

  • Do we focus enough on our psychological preparation and management?

Gatlin provides us all with an excellent example, use it to help you.

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