DAEGU, South Korea // Blistered and scarred, the American sprinter Justin Gatlin arrived at the world championships Wednesday with frostbite on both feet.
The 2004 Olympic champion, who last year made his return to competition after serving a four-year doping ban, said that he got frostbite about two weeks ago after going into a cryogenic chamber with wet socks. He did not lose any toes and will still run in Daegu, but his wounds are not completely healed.
"You wake up at 9 o'clock in the morning in Orlando and it's already 90°F (32°C)," said the 29-year-old Gatlin, who lives and trains in Florida. "So we're already hot, drenched with sweat. Get in the booth, socks were wet, socks froze to me instantly. Before I even came here, it was like walking on fiery pins and needles."
Athletes use cryogenic chambers to cool their muscles after a hard workout. Instead of ice packs, the chamber works faster and covers the entire body.
Gatlin is using the setback as inspiration heading into a possible showdown with Usain Bolt, the world record holder, in the 100 metres.
"Honestly, it's just the universe telling me, 'How much do you really want this? If you really want this, then I'm going to put these obstacles in your way and see how man enough you're going to be to overcome them'," he said.
Gatlin said the pain from the frostbite had subsided and the injury had not affected his stride. But it is still bothersome because the wounds on his heels are near the level where his socks sit and where the back of his running spikes touch.
"It bubbled up and it stayed bubbled up for a good four or five days," Gatlin said. "The confidence in me is rising. I'm getting ready to get out there and burn the track."