Justin Gatlin Inks Pro Pact, Exits UT

Six-time NCAA sprint champion Justin Gatlin is dashing into the Big Orange sunset, and Tennessee will miss him.

Gatlin has decided to make the leap to professional track and will forgo his final two seasons at UT. According to a press release from the UT SID's office, Gatlin signed the contract today automatically forfeiting his collegiate elgibility.

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."

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