BEIJING (Reuters) - Organizers of Wednesday’s Beijing World Challenge have denied that they kicked out Justin Gatlin from their meeting and said they were “perplexed” by the controversial sprinter’s claim.
The meeting went ahead without its star attraction Gatlin, who had stormed out of Beijing on Tuesday, claiming that he was ready to run the 100 meters but had been told by organizers he was not wanted.
Yet in comments to news agency Xinhua, the meeting’s organizing committee painted a very different picture on Wednesday, saying there had been “no possibility” that they would not have allowed the world’s current top sprinter to compete.
“We had been preparing the event assuming Gatlin would run the race. There was no way we ‘kicked out’ the athlete. So we have been perplexed by what they said,” Liu Jie, deputy director of the organizing committee told Xinhua, responding to the claims from Gatlin and his manager Renaldo Nehemiah.
“Nehemiah did not communicate with us before he announced Gatlin’s withdrawal at yesterday’s news conference. And we never got to speak with Gatlin in person.”
He added that he did not even know that Gatlin was going home until he heard Nehemiah announce it at the eve of meeting press conference. By that time, Gatlin would already have been at the airport.
Nehemiah had said before flying home on Tuesday that he had been told by organizers’ representatives that Gatlin should leave.
Nehemiah believes it was because Gatlin had informed them on arrival from Doha that he had a hamstring injury concern, making organizers worry that he would make a late withdrawal on the day of the meeting, as happened with world sprint hurdles champion David Oliver last year.
Either way, it seems clear there was a serious breakdown in communication between the two sides.
Gatlin, at least, had appeared to have softened his stance considerably after returning home, posting on Twitter: “Emotional day. All is fine with Beijing Org & me. We have a great relationship and I look forward to being there in Aug for worlds & next year for the meet.”
Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100 meters champion who has served two drugs suspensions, is poised to be the main challenger to Usain Bolt when the Jamaican defends his world title in Beijing on Aug. 23.
Writing by Ian Chadband; editing by Toby Davis