“Write what you like about us ... just spell our names properly,” he would tell reporters.
There was no such thing as bad publicity, he reasoned, just so long as people talk about you.
Presumably, this is a philosophy embraced by local athletics administrators, who see little wrong with wooing Justin Gatlin to attend an athletics meet in South Africa next month.
Gatlin is the world 100m champion. He also happens to be a drugs cheat.
Athletics South Africa’s commercial partners can invite who they like to the new athletics series, particularly as Gatlin has served his ban, but there’s something distasteful about paying good money for an athlete who has scandalised his sport.
Indeed, swimming Olympian Cameron van der Burgh articulated it best when he tweeted: “Athletes getting excited to welcome Gatlin to South Africa. Are you not forgetting the man is a double drug cheat with a third investigation pending? Stand up for clean sport.”
Athletes getting excited to welcome Gatlin to South Africa...Are you not forgetting the man is a double drug cheat with a 3rd investigation pending? Stand up for clean sport.
If only. Many locals are used to skirting a fine line when it comes to morality - Exhibit A being our fine politicians – so we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised by this decision to embrace one of sport’s less upstanding creatures.
The promoters will sell it as an opportunity to watch an entertainer in action, and he will fire up the crowd, but there will still be a stench in the air. Not everyone will cheer.
Local athletics is in good enough shape not to have to rely on people like Gatlin, who seldom exert themselves too much with such promotions anyway. He’ll be running the 150m, which tells you everything you need to know about the nature of his visit. Take the money and run, so to speak.
The irony is that locally the sport has never known a fortnight like the past one – seven national records fell in nine days. World long jump champion Luvo Manyonga continues to fire up stadiums around the world, his latest 8.40m leap inching ever closer to the world mark.
Little-known Derrick Mokaleng also got in on the action, setting a national 400m indoor record of 45.76 sec. He’s just 20.
There were others, too, with Dom Scott-Efurd and Carina Horn also smashing records.
What’s extraordinary is that Olympic champions Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk haven’t even featured yet.
If Instagram was an Olympic sport, Van Niekerk might have cracked gold here too, his busy picture feed reflecting his brave attempts at rehabilitation after his freak injury playing rugby last year. The odds must be long on him running as fast as he once did, but he’s surprised us before.
We won’t have long to wait for Semenya, who will run the 1000m in in the second leg of the new series in Pretoria. It’s a neither-here-nor-there distance, but it will suit her ambitions of chasing record times in the 800m and 1500m later in the season. The crowd will love her, especially if she breaks a record that has stood for 35 years.
Despite the Gatlin imbroglio, the new series is a welcome fillip for a sport that deserves so much better. Our athletes have succeeded largely against a backdrop of indifference and dysfunction, so any chance for them to be front and centre on local soil is to be applauded.
The organisers could do a noble turn by honouring the pair of Thabang Mosiako, the SA 5000m champion, and Rantso Mokopane, a former national champion, who were both injured in an alleged racist attack in Potchefstroom last Sunday.
Any such act of violence must be condemned, but it’s particularly heinous in Mosiako’s case – such is the extent of his injuries, he may not be able to run at elite level again.
Paying tribute to the pair needn’t be a grand or theatrical gesture, but would indicate solidarity with men who are part of the athletics brotherhood. It would also be an up-yours to the bigoted thugs who think racism is okay.
With luck, they’ll be in jail.