Tennessee's track team loses its leading point-producer and the driving force behind it's NCAA title run in 2001 as well as its NCAA indoor title in 2002 and its runner-up finish in the NCAA outdoor meet this spring.
The Pensacola, Fla., native won six consecutive NCAA sprint titles dating back to spring 2001, the most ever by a Vol. He won the NCAA outdoor 100-meter and 200-meter dash titles in consecutive years, the first man to accomplish the feat since Abilene Christian's Bobby Morrow in 1956-57.
Gatlin at least tied for NCAA high-scorer honors in the last three NCAA meets. Most recently, Gatlin went undefeated in every sprint race -- both indoor and outdoor -- he entered in 2002. He was named Track & Field News Male Collegiate Athlete of the Year and SEC Male Track Athlete of the Year in 2002.
"Justin has been a terrific competitor for us," said UT head track coach Bill Webb. "He is one of the greatest athletes ever in the NCAA. Justin's been a key component of our two most recent NCAA and conference championship teams. We wish him the very best with his future endeavors."
In a brief press statement, Gatlin expressed appreciation for his two years at UT and indicated he would remain a spokesperson for the University as he enters the next level of competition. The statement in its entirety reads:
"It's been a very good two years. I know I wouldn't be where I am today if I had attended another university. I had a lot of positive role models on and off the track. I just hope that Tennessee has as much love and support for me as I do for the university. I feel that I'm not saying goodbye, but just stepping to the next level of track and field. I want to be a spokesperson for the university. I'd like to thank Coach [Vince] Anderson [assistant coach in charge of sprinting] for everything he's done. He's still an inspiration. I'd like to thank my teammates for the support they've given me during this decision. They'll always be my teammates and friends. I love them all."