Justin Gatlin wins the men’s 100m (9.80) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. (Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE)

By Gene Cherry

LONDON, Aug 2 (Reuters) – The agonizing wait is almost over for American Justin Gatlin and two years after completing a doping ban, the 2004 Olympic 100 meters champion is ready to step to the line again in athletics’ most high profile event.

“It is a mission now, it is not a dream, not a goal,” Gatlin told Reuters in a telephone interview from the Olympic village.

“The first time around, I think I surprised a lot of people by winning,” the 30-year-old said of his Athens victory.

“This time I think more people have recognized my talent, my push, my drive to be a better athlete.”

That he could even make a second Olympic Games after his 2006 positive doping test for banned hormone testosterone banished him from competition for four years speaks well of the low-key sprinter’s determination.

But Gatlin, a surprise winner of the 2012 world indoor 60 meters title, genuinely believes he has come to London for more than just putting in an appearance.

“I am not focusing on just trying to get a medal, I am going out there trying to win,” he said. “If I take that lead, it is going to be hell giving it back.”

“I have nothing to lose,” said Gatlin, who will also gold for a gold medal on the Americans’ 4×100 meters relay team.

“It is no different from ’04. I wasn’t in the limelight then. I was just a dark horse.”

In a sprinting world dominated by Jamaica’s 100m record holder Usain Bolt and world champion Yohan Blake, most would put Gatlin in that category again.

After Bolt and Blake, the world’s second-fastest man Tyson Gay of the United States and Jamaican former world record holder Asafa Powell have drawn the most attention along with Gatlin.

“The only person that can beat Bolt is Bolt,” Gatlin said. “It all about whether he is willing to step up and keep that success going.”

Blake twice outraced his older compatriot in the Jamaican trials, and it could happen again, Gatlin said.

“Blake has a lot of passion. He is the more dangerous performer.”

The race for the gold should begin to unfold around 60 meters, Gatlin said. Quick-starting Powell, Blake, Gay and himself are likely to be up front with Bolt charging to assume command.

“By 70 meters, we should be able see who is going to be first, second and third,” Gatlin said.

Then it becomes a dash to the finish, a race the American hopes he is a part of.