Athletics: Justin Gatlin's agent says doping claims 'just big talk'

LONDON (AFP) - The agent at the centre of a investigation by a British newspaper into world 100m champion Justin Gatlin's entourage said on Tuesday (Dec 19) he invented a story about obtaining banned drugs to impress undercover reporters.

Robert Wagner, who has occasionally represented Gatlin, and Gatlin's coach Dennis Mitchell were secretly filmed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper claiming they could obtain and administer human growth hormone and testosterone for US$250,000 (S$336,800).

The newspaper's reporters had gone to meet the pair at Gatlin's Florida training base and had posed as producers interested in making a film about a sprinter - the drugs were meant to help the film's lead actor get into shape.

But in a statement given to Britain's Press Association by a British-based public relations company, Wagner said the Telegraph's story was "deeply flawed" because it was based on false comments he made up to impress people he thought were in the film business.

"It was just big talk - I did not actually source or supply the substances the reporters asked for but stupidly claimed I could," the US-based Austrian said. "I apologise to Mr Gatlin, his management and family for saying completely false things about him and I apologise to other completely innocent athletes also wrongly implicated by my words."

Wagner said he reported his meeting with the reporters to the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) and would assist the investigation it had started "in every way I can".

Earlier on Tuesday, Gatlin posted a statement on his Instagram account, saying he was "shocked and surprised" when he learned Mitchell had allegedly offered to supply performance-enhancing drugs.

"I am not using and have not used PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs)," wrote Gatlin, who has twice served doping bans during a controversial career.

The 35-year-old American sprint star, who beat Usain Bolt in the final of the 100m at the London world athletics championships this year, said he had sacked Mitchell after hearing of the claims.

Anti-doping officials have launched an investigation into the claims while International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Sebastian Coe said athletics needed to do more to tackle the scourge of doping that has long tainted the sport.

"We are looking at who we want in our sport," Coe, a two-time 1500m Olympic gold medallist, said in a statement.

"Focusing on the influences that surround athletes is a critical area of work," he added.

Gatlin has long been a controversial figure after being banned for doping in 2001 for one year and in 2006 for four years.

His long-time agent, former sprint hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, told the newspaper that Wagner had represented Gatlin only two to three times and that Gatlin was not present when banned substances were allegedly discussed with Mitchell or Wagner.

Mitchell, an Olympic sprint relay champion who served a two-year doping ban during his track career, has also strongly denied any wrongdoing.

The newspaper said it began its investigation in July after hearing of agents and trainers involved in supplying drugs to athletes.