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NEWS FEATURE Last chance for Gatlin to beat Bolt on the big stage By John Bagratuni, dpa

Europe
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Justin Gatlin needs to overcome the painful defeat from last year and his doping-offence past if he wants to beat Usain Bolt in what are likely his last Olympics.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Justin Gatlin has started his arguably last attempt to beat Usain Bolt in an Olympic sprint race and he is trying to stay focussed amid constant reminders of his past.

The 34-year-old American must shake off his narrow defeat against the Jamaican superstar from last year‘s world championships in Beijing and must outrun the shadows of his doping history.

So far Gatlin has coped well, keeping a low profile off the track but starring on it with a world leading 100-metre time of 9.80 seconds.

But Gatlin was also the fastest man last year heading to China, where he was beaten by one hundredth of a second by Bolt in the 100m and a huge marging in the 200m.

As a result, Bolt now has 11 world titles and six Olympic golds from his trebles 2008 and 2012. Gatlin has a 2004 gold over 100m plus a worlds sprint double from 2005 - and he lies several silvers behind Bolt.

Last year‘s races in China were billed "good v evil," given that Bolt is enshrined as the saviour of athletics while Gatlin is reduced to a two-time doping offender who was banned 2001 and 2006-2010.

The doping issue gained momentum again when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) controversially banned all Russians with a doping past from Rio - a ruling that was overthrown by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week - while other past cheats were eligible to run.

Rules and regulations aside, there are athletes who believe that ex-offenders should have no place in Rio, such as swimmer Lilly King who was firm in her view the likes of Gatlin should not be in Brazil.

Gatlin naturally had a different view when questioned about this after his 100m heat Saturday from which he handily advanced into the semis Sunday, just as Bolt did.

"I don‘t even know who Lilly King is. I mean, she does swimming and not track and field. I‘m not worried about that," Gatlin told reporters.

"I‘ve come back and done what I need to do. I‘ve worked hard like everybody else, I get tested like everyone else. I‘m back here. I believe in the system. I hope everybody else believes in the system too."

All that counts for Gatlin is the 100m final later Sunday, and he will have to at his best to beat Bolt who like last year is at the season highlight after an injury problem.

Gatlin named "staying focused on what I need to focus on" the key to success. "Went out there and executed my race in the first round. Cruised to the finish line. Getting ready for tomorrow," he said.

But he readily admits that he can‘t just shrug off the 2015 race in which he stumbled at the end of the 100m and Bolt stole the worlds gold from him.

"You can‘t forget any race. A win or a loss - they‘re all lessons you learn to become a stronger athlete, a stronger human, next time around," he said.

At the same time the soft-spoken Gatlin tries to keep a certain level of relaxation ahead of the big race at the dusk of his career.

"I feel good. I‘m at the end of my season, the end of my career. I‘m like, just have fun with it," he said.

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