By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) - As Justin Gatlin prepares to meet Usain Bolt for the 10th time in their 100 meters rivalry, the American says he is feeling like the old Justin when he too was an Olympic and world champion.
After a period that, he told Reuters, "has been the most difficult year for me because of injuries," the 35-year-old Rio Olympic silver medalist said he was ready for another run at the retiring Bolt in the London world championships starting on Friday.
"It is back to the old Justin, like 2004, where I'm with the pack and pull away at the finish line. That's how I won my gold," said Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic and 2005 world champion before a four-year doping suspension and the 2008 emergence of Bolt.
The injuries -- to an ankle, his calf and quadriceps and even his groin -- are healing and thoughts about facing Bolt one last time are on his mind.
"I want to be right there, running shoulder to shoulder all the way down to the finish line," Gatlin said. "Just fighting for it."
Only once, in 2013, has he got the upper hand -- at a Diamond League meeting in Rome.
"I have never been one not to believe in my own self," Gatlin said. "But at the end of the day I have to pay homage to him.
"I've got to give Usain respect because one of the best things about him is not only has he run fast, he runs fast at the moment when he needs to."
As in 2015 when Bolt fought off injuries to pip Gatlin for the world title, the Jamaican has not run especially fast this season, breaking 10 seconds for the first time on July 21.
That is no surprise to Gatlin.
"As a sprinter, a sprinter who has been on top of his game for a long time, running 9.7s, it takes a toll on you over time," the American said of Bolt, who will soon be 31.
"You're feeling your body. Each year you try to get back and there's a dullness. You've got to fight for it to get that sharpness back."
Gatlin is confident Bolt will be ready, though. "For sure," he said.
Should there be an upset and Gatlin come out on top, would he join Bolt in retirement?
"Let's see," the American said. "I want to be able to go out with a bang."
Two things tug at him to stay around until the 2020 Olympics.
One, if still running, he would like to dedicate the Tokyo Games to his son Jace, now seven.
Plus there is the burning desire to try another season or two when healthy just to see how fast he can run.
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)