Gatlin says win over Bolt prelude to bigger things

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(Reuters) – Olympic bronze medalist Justin Gatlin is not willing to call his surprising 100 meters victory over world record holder Usain Bolt a fluke.

The American sprinter prefers to think of last month’s triumph as the opening act of journey that will bring him and Bolt together again on a much larger stage later this year, he said on Wednesday.

“I would not consider it a fluke,” the 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist and London Games third-place finisher told a news conference ahead of Thursday’s start of the U.S. championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I would consider it a prelude to something better and greater. I want to have faster, greater competitions against him.”

The 31-year-old burst past Bolt in their Diamond League race in Rome last month and hung on for his first ever 100 meters victory over the Jamaican.

Some have called the rare loss a blip in Bolt’s preparations for August’s world championships in Moscow, a race soon to be forgotten.

Not Gatlin.

“I like racing against Usain, (Jamaican world champion) Yohan (Blake) and Tyson,” he said. “It is an adrenaline rush.”

It is also a major challenge, especially Bolt.

At 6 feet 5 inches, the lanky Jamaican can rapidly gobble up meters of space, producing times in the 100 and 200 meters many never thought possible.

“Some people probably think it is impossible to beat him when he is at his peak performance,” Gatlin said. “You just have to make sure you make someone like him feel as uncomfortable as possible in a race strategy.

“He is usually clear of the field at 60 meters, so you have got to make sure that when he looks over he can see you at 60 meters and you are still going on with him.”

Their next likely clash will be the world championships in Moscow, and Gatlin will attempt to set the stage for a potential rematch when he competes in the U.S. championships which double as the world trials.

Only the top three finishers in the cut-throat competition qualify for the worlds, with the 100 meters likely coming down to a showdown between 2004 Olympic gold medalist Gatlin and former world champion Tyson Gay, whom Gatlin edged out for an Olympic medal in London.

“When he is healthy, he is definitely one of the most dangerous sprinters that you can compete against,” Gatlin said of Gay.

But it is Bolt who is the man with the target on his back.

“His races are bigger than life. His persona is bigger than life,” Gatlin said.

Six times an Olympic gold medalist, “he is only going to run in big championships very fast,” said Gatlin, who takes pride in his win over Bolt but knows it was not an all-encompassing victory.

“You have to continuously beat someone, especially in our field, to be able to feel like you have really beaten them,” the American said. “A one-off in our field is considered a fluke.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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