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Gatlin ready to finally beat Bolt in Rome

Jun 6, 2013, 9:57 AM EDT

Justin Gatlin

World record holder Usain Bolt has gotten the best of Justin Gatlin in all three head-to-head races of their careers, including at the London Olympics last summer when Gatlin took bronze. But the two are set to square off again Thursday night in Rome, and this time Gatlin thinks he can win.

“My season has been going really good,” Gatlin told the AP. “From Beijing to Shanghai to Doha and hopefully I can keep that streak going.”

And why not? The 31-year-old Athens gold medalist had the best race of his life at last summer’s London Games, and has already run under 10-seconds twice already this season, while Bolt’s 2013 season best is 10.09 to barely win at the Cayman Invitational.

“I have a different feel going into the season than I did last year,” Gatlin told the BBC. “It was a little more highly strung last year because it was the Olympic Games and I wanted to make sure it was the best season I ever had. I want to go into this season with that same attitude but more calm, more collected. I want to be able to know who my opponents are and what they do and what they bring to the table.”

Gatlin said he’s been working hard on his finish, and has been training to match the “extraordinary” speed of Bolt and his Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake in the last 20 meters of the 100m. But Bolt, who’s won in Rome the last two seasons – including a blazing 9.76 after a similarly slow start to 2012 – said he’s back to 100 percent and isn’t worried about anyone but himself.

The two Olympic champions will face American Mike Rodgers, who’s finished second to Gatlin twice this season, and Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis, who at 37-years-old was still able to show his 10-second speed last month. Actually, Bolt is tied for the second worst 2013 time in Thursday’s field. Go figure.