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Gatlin sends strong message as he breezes to 200 title with fastest time ever at nationals

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EUGENE, Oregon — Justin Gatlin just couldn't help himself. He pointed at the clock as he crossed the line, just to make sure no one missed his splendid time.

That wasn't even full throttle, either. He believes he still has a faster gear. He just wanted to point that out, too.

Gatlin coasted to the 200-meter title at the U.S. championships in a meet-record 19.57 seconds Sunday. That's a number sure to get the attention of Usain Bolt.

At least, that was the objective anyway.

"I wanted to go out and make a statement and that's what I did today," Gatlin said.

Training partner Isiah Young was second, 0.36 seconds behind, and 30-year-old Wallace Spearmon wound up third.

Gatlin looks super-fast these days, while Bolt suddenly appears very vulnerable.

This is shaping up to be an interesting showdown at the Beijing world championships in August. Gatlin may even be the favorite over Bolt, something that's almost unheard of heading into a big meet.

"That's probably one of the best races I've had," Gatlin said.

Every part of the race, too. His start was crisp. His turn was flawless. His final stretch was uncatchable. His celebratory howl at the end impressive.

Gatlin shattered his previous best of 19.68, which he set last July in Monaco and then matched last month here at Hayward Field. Tyson Gay, the 100 winner who skipped the 200, set the previous meet record of 19.62 in 2007.

And just so you know: Michael Johnson has the American record (19.32) and Bolt the world record (19.19).

"I'm just honored to say I'm on that short list of Americans who have ran that fast," said Gatlin, who won't run another 200 until worlds.

The 33-year-old Gatlin was so quick in the opening round that his competitors were kiddingly telling him to slow it down. He was simply eager to begin because he skipped the 100 because he had an automatic bye into worlds courtesy of his Diamond League title.

His plans now are simple: Rest. Running that sort of time left him drained.

"My body has never been there before," said Gatlin, the controversial sprinter who returned in 2010 after serving a four-year doping ban. "It hurt.

PHOTO: Jenna Prandini, second from left, celebrates after winning the 200-meter at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, June 28, 2015. From left to right are: Kaylin Whitney, Prandini, Dezerea Bryant and Kyra Jefferson. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Jenna Prandini, second from left, celebrates after winning the 200-meter at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, June 28, 2015. From left to right are: Kaylin Whitney, Prandini, Dezerea Bryant and Kyra Jefferson. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

"But I'm feeling really good now."

Soon, it's back to work for Gatlin in an effort to catch Bolt, who skipped Jamaican nationals because he has automatic byes into both events as the world champion. But Bolt hasn't been looking like the Bolt of old in recent weeks. His best mark this season in the 200 is 20.13.

"A lot of sprinters are waking up and saying, 'It's time to fight back. It's time to work hard and bear that American flag with honor,'" Gatlin said.

Spearmon returns to the Bird's Nest in Beijing, a place that doesn't hold pleasant memories. He captured bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics before being disqualified for stepping outside his lane.

"Unfinished work," Spearmon said.

In the women's 200, Oregon standout Jenna Prandini won in 22.20. Candyce McGrone was second and Jeneba Tarmoh third.

"To go out there and actually put together my race and to come away with a win is exciting," Prandini said.

There were several touching moments at nationals on the final day, things like Chaunte Lowe giving her American flag to a military veteran after she won the high jump.

Then there's Alysia Montano, who ran the 800 at nationals last summer 7 1/2 months pregnant and finished in 2:32.13. On Sunday, she carried 10-month-old Linnea in her arms after winning the event in 1:59.15.

"My greatest accomplishment was sharing an amazing moment with my daughter (last year)," Montano said.

There was a little drama in the men's shot put, with runner-up finisher Christian Cantwell perturbed over winner Joe Kovacs taking two extra practice throws before the final.

"I thought it was a little bush league," said Cantwell, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist.

Kovacs brushed it off.

"I just like getting Christian mad," cracked Kovacs, who celebrated his 26th birthday Sunday. "The official said you can take warmups. I'm going to do what the official says. He was just mad before he didn't know."

Kara Goucher didn't have her trademark kick in the 5,000 meters, with recent events weighing on her. She finished in 18th place, nearly a minute behind winner Nicole Tully.

Goucher took exception Sunday at being portrayed as a liar by Alberto Salazar after her former coach went public to clear his name over doping allegations. She went on the defensive, saying she's "fighting to clean up my sport" and started talking to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2013.

"I don't like being labeled a liar," Goucher said. "I want people to like me. But my love for the sport is much stronger than my passion to have people like me."

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