He sure did look at home when he lined up in Lane 7 on Sunday. The athletes looked down the line, shook their legs and bounced their feet back into starting blocks. All signs pointed to an average elite track meet, until the cameras shifted just enough so viewers could see volunteers wearing face masks and tens of thousands of empty seats in the background.
Then they were off. Gatlin, unsurprisingly, was first across the line in 10.24 seconds. (His personal best is 9.74, which he ran in 2015.)
“It wasn’t the fastest time I’ve ever had, but under those conditions, with the bubble and quarantine, it felt good to get the win,” he said, and then added after a pause, “I can say I got the first win in the Olympic Stadium.”
The joy in his voice was clear, the hunger to get back to that track for the real thing, and his confidence that the Games could be held successfully.
“I can’t think of anywhere else the Olympics could be successful,” he said, describing his varied experiences racing around the globe. “Japan already has that instilled in their culture, to be cautious and systematic.”
That said, many people in Japan are fearful that the Games could turn into a coronavirus superspreader event, with thousands of people arriving in Tokyo from hundreds of countries that are all at different stages of the pandemic. And last week, Japan extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions until the end of May to contain a surge of coronavirus cases.
Gatlin acknowledged that fear, and those who are against holding the Games. “I can’t put my Olympic dream in front of someone’s life,” he said. “But let’s take every precaution and safeguards before we decide to cancel or once again move the date of the Olympics. I think that if we are making gains around the world, being safe and if everyone is on their p’s and q’s wearing their masks, social distancing and disinfecting, we have a great chance of having a successful Olympics.”