Gatlin, 35, who has served two doping bans, was booed by sections of the crowd in the Queen Elizabeth Stadium before his races in the 100m. And once he had claimed gold in the showpiece race, there were more whistles.
Coe, who has vowed to crack down on the drugs cheats during his term as IAAF president, said he fully understood why spectators had jeered the American sprinter.
“I don’t like to see athletes being booed,” said Coe, a former Olympic medallist. “But the public do feel strongly about drugs. I thought in a way, the athletes took the lead. The dignified way that Usain handled the situation did actually take out some of the tension out of the immediate response.”
Coe added: “Justin was eligible to be here. This was a 17-year history. And we witnessed the denouement in the stadium.”
Gatlin lambasts ‘bad boy’ image
Gatlin hit out at his portrayal in the media as the bad boy of athletics. “Do I talk bad about anybody? Do I do bad gestures? I don’t. I shake every athletes’ hand. I congratulate them. I tell them good luck. That doesn’t sound like the traits of a bad boy to me.
“It just seems that the media wants to sensationalise and make me the bad boy because Usain is a hero. I know you’ve got to have a black hat and a white hat, but really, people know I keep it classy and never talk bad. I try to inspire other athletes and I try to stay in my lane – literally. So I don’t see where the bad boy comes from.”
In his day as an athlete, Coe advocated lifetime bans for drugs cheats. “The guiding principle for me is really simple,” he added. “I’d rather not see athletes who have tested positive in the past walking away and winning titles at some of the biggest moments in our sport.
“Public opinion is public opinion, we’re not here to choreograph that. But I don’t think that Gatlin’s win was a moment that’s going to define the championships or the next four or five years of the sport.”
Ed Warner, the co-chair of the organising committee, admitted he had been surprised at the strength of booing following Gatlin’s victory.
“My view as the organiser is these are paying customers and the public is entitled to express their view about doping in our sport and people feel very passionately about it and we felt that passion come out with Gatlin.”