Justin Gatlin: Not quite the 'bad boy'. A side of the new world champion you don't often read about

Justin Gatlin spoke exclusively to ITV News Credit: AP

In a wide-ranging interview before his final race of the season tonight, the new 100m world champion spoke to Steve Scott about being the 'villain', how he’s worked hard to right past wrongs - and life on the track without Usain Bolt.

"Sorry guys, do you mind moving to the side slightly please? I’m going to be running down the lane you’re standing in."

Justin Gatlin was politeness itself as he asked ITV News’ cameraman to give him some space as he practised launching himself out of the blocks.

Alone on the track in Zurich, the current world champion was essentially fitting his training session around us. Whatever the reason, I can’t imagine any other newly-crowned winner in such a high-profile sport doing the same for someone he’d never met before.

He had no entourage with him – it was just Gatlin, us and his trainer Dennis.

And all this after the almighty kicking he was given in the media around the World Championships.

Gatlin says hearing the booing as he received his medal hurt. Credit: AP

Gatlin looks much younger in the flesh; his appearance much softer when he’s not wearing his race face.

We’d arranged to film him in the stadium before moving on to his hotel a few hours later to sit down and chat about his past bans, his rivalry with Bolt, his status as a villain and specifically his recent experience in London, when the crowd booed his every move.

Given our time constraints, I asked whether we could change plans at the last minute, and do the interview directly after his work-out at the stadium rather than go back to the hotel.

"Sure, not a problem - just give me a shout when you’re ready and I’ll come over."

There was no agent or minder, no one to warn us off any specific line of questioning – it was just him and me. It sounds like that’s how it should be, but believe you me, when it comes to elite sport it is almost never, ever this way.

Of course I am well aware that after his London mauling, there could be a motive behind agreeing to talk to me - but then he could have done the same with someone he knew, who would guarantee him positive coverage.

He actually admitted during our conversation that when he does interviews these days he never reads them or watches them back.

Every time he used to, he just got down about how he was portrayed - always in a negative light.

He is softly spoken and surprisingly eloquent. (I say surprisingly as proof that I, too, took some prejudices along with me before meeting him).

We talked extensively about his reception at London – he tried to block it out at the time, use it as motivation but admitted when the boos rang out as he climbed the podium, it did hurt.

It also hurt his mum and dad who were sitting in the crowd.

That affected him the most, although he reflected that his mother warned him at the time of his second ban, 11 years ago, the stigma would follow him like a cloud for the rest of his career.

Prescient, Mrs Gatlin.

I did tell him that the next day his father had come to the defence of his son and criticised all those who protested that night.

"Did he?!" Gatlin broke into the widest of smiles; he really had no idea, but the thought of his dad standing up for him made him proud.

Gatlin said he did not believe the sport would suffer from the departure of Usain Bolt Credit: AP

He accepts that because of his four-year ban for doping (an offence he still puts down to sabotage by a disaffected member of his team), not everyone will welcome him competing.

But, he asks, when there were so many other athletes in London who had also served the same length ban, why he is singled out?

Because he’s a winner? Because he beat Bolt?

He also highlights the fact that he is working within the rules. Not his rules, the sport’s rules. Essentially, he’s done his time and is free to race again - and has been for some time.

And that is the point. I have no idea whether he knowingly allowed cream containing testosterone to be massaged into his back or not. In fact, there are probably only two people who know for sure.

In reality, it doesn’t matter - Gatlin alone is responsible for what enters his body and if it’s illegal, however it got there, he has to carry the can.

But to vilify him for the rest of his days, not give him a second chance? Is that the world in which we want to live? And regardless, if the sport welcomes him back then surely the boo boys should be directing their anger at it, the IAAF, WADA, whoever - but not Gatlin.

On his status as a “villain”, he admitted that he wished it wasn’t so.

I point out that it's because he’s never said sorry or shown any remorse.

He says that isn’t strictly true; that he wrote a letter to the IAAF and apologised but claims it was subsequently buried and only made public many years later.

Of course, he wasn’t apologising for cheating per se, because he says he didn’t knowingly take anything - he was apologising for the “black eyes” he brought to the sport as a result of his positive test.

But to me, on camera, he was happy to apologise one more time: "If people want an official apology, I’ll give it. I’m sorry, I’m sorry."

I think he realised while his message had filtered through in many places around the world, it certainly hadn’t made it across the pond to the UK.

The British media hasn’t helped him. We love a good versus bad story. It’s simple to tell, simple to understand and it sells - the only problem is, it’s not always the truth.

The number of people I have had to correct when they tell me: "Yeah, but he’s been done for steroids twice."

Partly, that’s a lack of inquisitiveness for detail and partly it’s because the lazier journalists love the convenient moniker "two-time drugs cheat" without ever giving it any context.

Gatlin spoke to ITV News sports editor Steve Scott Credit: ITV News

His first ban was overturned as quickly as it was enforced. He had tested positive for a drug he’d been prescribed since he was a youngster for ADHD, and what’s more, the sport knew it.

The authorities at the time even stated publicly that they did not believe Justin Gatlin was a cheat.

When I asked Gatlin if he had a message for those who gave him such a vitriolic reception, his answer was thoughtful.

Be a real fan, he said – get to know an athlete’s full story before you decide you’re going to boo him. Know who you’re booing, don’t just react to simple, often misleading headlines.

Then, if you’ve done your research and you don’t like what you see, perhaps stay silent rather than join the braying.

Did he feel guilty for beating Bolt in his last race? Of course he didn’t; what world class athlete would? As he told me, when the two of them are on the track, "it’s war".

Was he concerned now their rivalry is over, that the event he excels at would be diminished? No, he didn’t think so.

He predicts an exciting new chapter - he hasn’t a clue who is going to be chasing him down but he’s looking forward to the challenge from a whole host of young sprinters.

Finally, I asked him whether it was more important for him now to win titles, or be loved by athletics fans.

He paused. "It’s a good question," he said, pausing again.

"A bit of both, I guess."

On reflection that is probably the answer that tells you more about Justin Gatlin now, than any other.

So when you next see him race, if you feel you the urge to shout, then go ahead - you’re entitled to.

But try to do some research first and read Gatlin’s actual back story, not just the pantomime version you’ll find cut and pasted ad nauseum in a kangaroo court online.