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Justin Gatlin was the man before Usain Bolt hit the scene, but a four-year ban side tracked his career. But this past Sunday he was able celebrate his win in the men's 100m finals at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Photo by Charlie Riedel (AP)
The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials are at its midpoint, and so far there have been some compelling stories.
USC’s Bryshon Nellum, who was a standout sprinter at Long Beach Poly high school, nearly had his dreams and his life ended in 2008 when he was shot three times in his legs as he was running away from gang members.
After surviving the attack, Nellum’s career appeared to be over, but after a few surgeries and a long road back from rehab and training, he is now heading to the Olympics after taking third place in the 400-meter dash with a time of 44.80. LaShawn Merritt won the race with a time of 44.12.
The two gang members who shot Nellum pleaded no contest to attempted murder and received 15 years in prison each.
Also making a comeback was former 100-meter dash Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin. Before Usain Bolt hit the scene in dominant fashion, Gatlin was setting world records in the event, he won the Olympic gold in 2004, and he also won the 100 and 200-meter dashes at the 2005 World Championships.
But Gatlin’s career was put on hold, and it appeared to be over, when he was banned for eight years after a failed drug test in 2006. He claimed that he had never knowingly taken any illegal drugs. His coach was Trevor Graham, who has coached eight athletes who have tested positive or received bans for performance enhancing drugs. Graham claimed that a massage therapist rubbed a crème with testosterone onto Gatlin’s legs without him knowing it.
Gatlin’s eight-year ban was reduced to four years because he cooperated with doping authorities, and now that he is back and he is picking up right where he left off. He won the 100-meter dash, and a ticket back to the Olympics, with a personal best time of 9.80. Tyson Gay, who has been right behind Bolt over the past few years, will also be heading back to the Olympics after he took second place in the finals with a time of 9.86.
The women’s 100-meter dash did not end with a redemption story, but with controversy after Los Angeles native Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh finished in a tie for third place. The top three finishers advance to the Olympics.
After reviewing the photo finish, race officials were unable to determine which athlete took third place, as they both ran a time of 11.068. Carmelita Jeter won the race with a time of 10.92.
One interesting aspect of this story is that Felix and Tarmoh are training partners. Because there is no procedure in place to break the tie, the two have been given the choice of having a run off, or flipping a coin to decide who goes to the Olympics.
Felix will not make a decision until after she runs the 200-meter dash on Saturday, where she is the favorite. Tarmoh is also competing in the 200.
The Olympic trials will conclude this weekend, and can be viewed on NBC.