In its March 2010 issue, Track & Field News reveals its picks for “Athletes of the Decade,” covering the years from 2000 to 2009. Among the groups ranked were “Top 10 Collegiate Men,” with former University of Tennessee sprint sensation Justin Gatlin checking in at No. 7.
Leading the college list was sprinter Walter Dix of Florida State, followed by distance runner Alistair Cragg (Arkansas), 400-meter sprinter/hurdler Kerron Clement (Florida), distance runner Galen Rupp (Oregon) and sprinter Xavier Carter (LSU) in the top five. The second quintet includes steeplechase/distance runner Daniel Lincoln (Arkansas), Gatlin, thrower Janus Robberts (SMU), jumper Walter Davis (LSU) and pole vaulter Tommy Skipper (Oregon).
Before embarking on a professional career after his sophomore season, Gatlin earned 12 total All-America certificates during the 2001 and 2002 seasons with the Big Orange. The native of Pensacola, Fla., swept NCAA Outdoor crowns in the 100 and 200 meters both seasons and added an indoor double in 2002 when he claimed victories in the 60 and 200.
At the SEC level, Gatlin zoomed to seven championships. He recorded an SEC Indoor double in the 60 and 200 meters in 2002 and won five crowns outdoors. Included in that haul outside were 200m and 4x100m relay victories in 2001 and 2002 and a first-place finish in the 100m in 2002. His prowess drew several conference awards, including 2001 SEC Indoor and Outdoor Freshman of the Year, 2001 SEC Outdoor Athlete of the Year and 2002 SEC Indoor and Outdoor Athlete of the Year.
Without question, Gatlin’s contributions were keys to Tennessee’s collection of team hardware in that era. During his brief tenure, the Vols seized the 2001 NCAA Outdoor National Championship and followed it up by winning the NCAA Indoor trophy the following season. UT also posted a runner-up showing at the 2002 NCAA Outdoor meet. At the conference level, Gatlin paced Tennessee to SEC Outdoor crowns in 2001 and 2002 and to finishes of third and second at the conference indoor meets during those seasons.
In 2004, Gatlin represented the United States in the Olympics in Athens, Greece. The UT product collected a medal of every available color, taking gold in the 100m, silver with the 4x100m relay and bronze via the 200m.
In addition to his inclusion on the collegiate list, Gatlin and two more former Vols, pole vaulter Tim Mack and decathlete Tom Pappas, appear in the world “Top 10 Men By Event,” which encompasses what they did after their UT days. Gatlin rates No. 5 on the 100 meters list and No. 6 in the 200. Mack, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in the vault, stands seventh on his event list. Pappas, a three-time Olympian, is No. 4 in the decathlon.
Mack was a three-time All-American from 1994-1995, winning the NCAA Indoor title in 1995. He also won the SEC Indoor crown that season.
Pappas, meanwhile, was an All-American in the decathlon in 1997 and 1999, taking first-place NCAA honors in the latter of those seasons. He also captured the SEC decathlon in 1997 and won the open javelin at the 1999 conference meet.