There is only one man faster than Justin Gatlin in the world right now — Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt.
With Gatlin threatening Bolt’s supremacy by running the fastest times of his career, Gatlin vs. Bolt has the highest profile of any track and field rivalry today. In the 100m at the London Olympics, Gatlin stood below Bolt on the medal stand in third.
A year later, Bolt only defeated Gatlin by .08 seconds at the 2013 World Championships, and at last year’s World Championships, Gatlin seemed on the cusp of usurping Bolt until a late stumble allowed Bolt to finish ahead of Gatlin by .01 seconds.
As he heads toward the 2016 Games, the American carries a reminder of what he is striving for — a medal — but it’s not one of the four he’s collected at the Olympics; it’s the medal his son won in his first track meet at age 4.
Twelve years after he won gold in the 100m at the Athens Olympics, Gatlin is poised to collect more hardware in Rio, where his sprint rivalry will likely culminate.
However, his success and quick times at an age where most sprinters are declining has brought skepticism, especially since the 33-year-old has twice served doping suspensions.
Whether the public and track and field community will fully accept Gatlin back is yet to be determined, but this much is not: the only man who appears capable of spoiling what is expected to be Bolt’s final Olympic appearance is Gatlin.
Copyright 2016 NBC News. All rights reserved.