I'm no villain, pleads sprinter Justin Gatlin
Controversial American sprinter Justin Gatlin, who has served two doping bans, insisted he is "no villain" and claimed comments dredging up his past were "sensationalist" and "hurtful".
Gatlin cuts a controversial figure on the track scene, readily admitting that a four-year doping ban served between 2006-10 after a positive test for testosterone had been both "a gift and a curse".
The Florida-based sprinter won the Olympic 100m in 2004 and world sprint double golds a year later in Helsinki before serving his second ban.
The long lay-off paid dividends, however, and the 34-year-old has since hit the peak of his form, establishing himself as firm favourite in both the 100 and 200m although arch-rival Usain Bolt pipped him to the world double in Beijing last year.
There is never a shortage of people willing to shoot Gatlin down. He has been shunned by organisers of some meetings and track and field's governing body, the IAAF, even changed their rules for their prestigious Athlete of the Year awards, insisting that a convicted doping cheat was not eligible.
"I understand the media. They want to be more creative and be able to make storylines more sensationalised," Gatlin said of his detractors.
"I'm just a runner like everybody else. I get up and train every day, like everybody else. It's hurtful, it's hurtful to be looked at as a villain because that's not how I portray myself, that's not how my son portrays me or my family.
"So when I come out, I come out to get ready for the support. When I go to meets, when I'm doing my victory lap, I stop and sign every autograph and I take every picture I can and I give back to communities around the world as much as I can.
"I don't think a villain does that," he said, speaking ahead of Thursday's Diamond League meeting at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.
- 'Pure competition' -
It was in the same stadium in June 2013 that Gatlin trumped Bolt, and in 2015 the American clocked 9.75sec to better the Jamaican's stadium record.
"It's about pure competition. To get the victory over Usain at that time... It wasn't raised to be such a big race, it was still a great win," Gatlin said of the unexpected victory.
"I think it was kind of like a launching pad for me to be able to say 'Okay, I can win up here, I can start dominating again, assert races and be able to hold on to consistent dominance'."
The American warned that he was carrying a slight injury, with an eye firmly fixed on the Rio Olympics in August.
"I'm still coming back from my ankle issue. So my transition around 50 or 70 (metre mark) gets a little sticky when I'm trying to put more pressure into the ground and generate more speed," he said.
"But I have time over the next month to be able to get everything worked out for the Olympic trials.
"Training has been steady, getting ready for the trials. After I leave here I have a street race in Rio and after that I'll shut my season for now and get ready for some more speed endurance
"And my first 200m race of the season will be the opening round of the trials."
© 2016 AFP