BEIJING (Reuters) - Controversial sprinter Justin Gatlin ran into a fresh row on Tuesday when he flew home on the eve of the Beijing World Challenge meeting, angrily claiming organizers had told him they did not want him to compete.
The American, who has served two doping bans but is currently the world’s fastest man, said he had planned to headline the 100 meters event at Wednesday’s meeting despite slight injury concerns but was told he was not wanted.
However, organizers of the meeting in the Bird’s Nest Stadium ignored repeated requests for a response to Gatlin’s claims, leaving no obvious explanation as to why they would want him to leave a meeting where he was the star attraction.
Asked whether the sudden departure may have been linked to his controversial reputation or any fresh doping allegation, the sprinter’s manager Renaldo Nehemiah said: “No, it has nothing to do with that. No, this is because they think he is injured and they don’t want him here if he’s injured.”
Gatlin, who had ran the fastest 100 meters of his life and the quickest in the world this year at 9.74 seconds in Doha on Friday, told reporters as he left for the airport to fly home to Florida that he was “upset” by the lack of respect shown to him.
Nehemiah said he had been told by organizers the sprinter would have to pay for all his team’s travel and hotel costs, amounting to nearly $12,000, and would not receive his appearance fee.
Former hurdling great Nehemiah added that he would be taking up the matter with the International Association of Athletics Federations. (IAAF).
Gatlin, who had flown from Doha straight to Beijing on Saturday, said he had initially told organizers that he had suffered cramping in a tight hamstring and dehydration following the flight and was not sure about his fitness to compete.
“I‘m upset. I‘m the kind of guy who, regardless of whether you think I‘m a good or a bad guy, I go off respect and I had enough respect to tell the organizers as soon as I arrived how I felt going into this race,” he said.
Yet after coming through a training session on Monday, he felt confident he would be fit to compete at a meeting where he has starred before.
“I was happy to stay. I‘m fit and ready to run. I was cramping a lot after the fastest my body has ever run,” Gatlin said.
“They didn’t have any respect for me so they said ‘you better leave’ and they kicked me out. It makes no sense.”
The sprinter, who has become a polarizing figure in the sport after his drugs bans, was clearly bewildered and angry as he left for Beijing airport with his physiotherapist.
“I thought I was competing. I ran the fastest time by anyone since 2012 in Doha and my body was a little whacked. I had respect for the organizers telling them that I felt dehydrated but they didn’t have any respect for me,” he added.
”It’s crazy. I have no idea what they were thinking. I think they thought I wasn’t man enough and I might pull up in the race, or not finish it and then still ask for money.
”But I‘m not a man like that. I‘m not the kind of guy to cheat people of their money or let the fans down... that’s not what I do.
“I’d have run 9.8, 9.7 seconds here. That’s what I‘m trained to do, to put on a great show.”
Gatlin promised he would be back to compete in Prefontaine Classic meeting in Eugene on May 30, declaring: “I‘m going to drop a bomb out there.”
Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by John O'Brien