He must have been looking at home when he lined up in lane 7 on Sunday. The athletes look down the line, shake their legs and jump their feet back into starting blocks. All signs point to an average elite track event until the cameras have moved just enough so that viewers could see volunteers in the background with face masks and tens of thousands of empty seats.
Then they left. Gatlin, surprisingly, was first over the line in 10.24. (His personal best is 9.74, which he handled in 2015.)
“It was not the fastest time I have ever had, but under the circumstances, with the bubble and the quarantine, it felt good to achieve the victory,” he said, adding after a pause: “I can say I have the first victory in the Olympic Stadium. ”
The joy in his voice was evident, the hunger to return to the right track and his confidence that the Games could be held successfully.
“Nowhere else can I think that the Olympics can be successful,” he said, describing his diverse experiences around the world. “Japan has already instilled this in their culture, to be careful and systematic.”
That said, many people in Japan are afraid that the Games could turn into a coronavirus superspreader event, with thousands of people arriving in Tokyo from hundreds of countries all in different stages of the pandemic. Last week, Japan extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions until the end of May to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.
Gatlin acknowledged the fear and those opposed to holding the Games. “I can’t put my Olympic dream before anyone’s life,” he said. ‘But let’s take all precautions before deciding to cancel the date of the Olympics. I think we have a great chance of achieving a successful Olympics if we make profits around the world, are safe and if everyone wears their masks on their p’s and q’s, does social distance and disinfects.