BRUSSELS (AP) — Ten years later, Justin Gatlin is dominating his sport once more.
Granted, it’s happening at a time when Usain Bolt is taking a break from the track — but given the way Gatlin is running, perhaps even the seemingly unbeatable Jamaican will have to watch out next year.
The American sprinter ran the fastest 100 meters of the year Friday, and set a personal best at 32, before also winning the 200 only an hour later at the Van Damme Memorial, the last major event of the season.
It extended his unbeaten streak to 18 races so far, with one minor race in Rieti, Italy, to come on Sunday.
A full decade after he became Olympic 100 champion in Athens and four years after returning from a long doping ban, Gatlin set a time of 9.77 seconds. That matches the time he was stripped of in 2006 when he was slapped with a four-year ban, which at the time gave him a share of the world record.
Now, humbled by hindsight, it gives him hope that the best might be yet to come.
“It is coming back full circle, right,” Gatlin said. “So, hmmm, a little bit of bittersweet, but I am happy.”
The only athlete coming close to stealing Gatlin’s spotlight in Brussels high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, who came preciously close to setting a world record of 2.46 meters but had to settle for an Asian record of 2.43.
At 23, Barshim still has much his career ahead of him. For Gatlin, it already is an achievement to have come back from the doping ban.
Even in his 30s, Gatlin still has the quick start, the vigor of acceleration and the sustained strength right through to the finish to make many younger men jealous.
Doing it in two races on one night was just another way to prove a point.
“I wanted to test my toughness,” he said.
He will need it next year, because Bolt will be back and bent on winning another world championship triple in Beijing as a stepping stone toward the 2016 Olympics Rio.
Bolt’s season was limited to just a few minor events this year because of injuries, but Gatlin is looking forward to meeting him head head-on and turning a one-man show into a duel.
“It is not just one lane on the track,” said Gatlin of Bolt’s dominance. “I don’t want to go out there and lay down when Usain Bolt takes the stage. I will go out there and push him. ... The world wants to see a good rivalry.”
Another American excelled in the women’s 200, with Allyson Felix clocking a world-leading 22.02 seconds to beat Frenchwoman Myriam Soumare and European champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands.
In the shot put, New Zealand’s Valerie Adams won her 56th straight competition, beating the 27-year-old stadium record with a throw of 20.59 meters, which also was the best performance of the year.
Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic also set a leading mark for the season and a King Baudouin stadium record, winning the javelin with 69.99.
Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert