Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Summer

Tyson Gay: The spoiler

America's best sprinter aims to ruin the podium plans of Jamaica's top pair

America's best sprinter aims to ruin the podium plans of Jamaica's top pair

Seconds after claiming the 100-metre title at the 2007 IAAF world championships in a meet-record 9.85 seconds, Tyson Gay bounced around the finish area shouting and thumping his chest in an uninhibited display of machismo.

Having laid waste to the aspirations of Jamaica's then world record holder, Asafa Powell, the native of Lexington, Ky., was understandably excited.

It was an altogether different scene beneath the Osaka stadium when American team officials sneaked his mother, Daisy Gay Lowe, down to the media mixed zone to see him. Interviews were halted while the pair hugged and cried.

Few witnessed what happened next as Gay wandered into the holding tent where athletes retrieved their clothing.

Alone in front of a television sat a dejected Powell, sweat still dripping off him. The American dressed himself while staring over at his rival. Then, in a gesture that belied the public display millions around the world were fed via television images, he wandered over to the Jamaican and hugged him.

Friendly rivalry

It was a far cry from the intense rivalries we have come to expect in sprinting. There was little love lost between Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson, for instance, or between Maurice Greene and Donovan Bailey.

But here were two respectful sporting gentlemen with more than just sprinting in common. Gay listens to gospel music before he races while Powell often plays guitar in a church worship band. And both revere their families.

Growing up, Gay liked to race against his older sister Tiffany under the watchful eye of their mother. With endorsements from Adidas, McDonalds and Sega — his picture graces the cover of the Sega's Olympic video game — he is able to provide for his eight-year-old daughter Trinity, who lives with his former partner.

Powell and Gay will assuredly square off again at the Beijing Olympics, but this time it will be a three-way race as Powell's friend and compatriot, Usain Bolt, has served notice he will be a threat in the 100m.

The 21-year-old Bolt, who stunned Gay in New York on May 31st with a world record of 9.72, has confirmed he will run the 100m in addition to his preferred event, the 200m.

Capable of 9.6?

While we may see Bolt in both events, Gay won't have that luxury. That's unfortunate, because in Osaka he became only the third man in world championship history to win both events — the others being Maurice Green and Justin Gatlin. Gay's winning time in the 200m was a splendid 19.76 championship record. He also ran third leg on the American gold medal-winning relay team.  

"Maurice Greene is one of my idols and I am proud to do the double like him," Gay said after the Osaka 200m final. "The 200 metres was just about believing in God that he would give me the strength. I beat the [world] championship record of Michael Johnson and that is a great feeling because he is also one of my idols.

"I believe it is possible to beat his world record, but I have to build up more strength."

Gay was in fine form at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials, winning the 100m in a wind- aided time of 9.68 seconds after setting an American record of 9.77 in the quarter-finals.

"Getting a gold medal is my biggest motivation and I want to save the best for last. My expectations are huge going into the Olympics," he said at the time. "(Coach) Jon Drummond said I was capable of running 9.6, so that's what I had in my mind."

But later in the week Gay pulled up with a hamstring strain during the 200m qualifying rounds and failed to finish. While his agents and coach downplayed the injury, he spent three weeks in Munich getting treatments. As a precaution he pulled out of the London Grand Prix meet where he was scheduled to race Powell.

Coached from prison

Gay, who turns 26 on Aug. 9, has proven he can overcome the odds.

His astonishing triple gold-medal performance in Osaka was achieved without access to his personal coach. Lance Brauman, the man who had coached him at both Barton County Community College in Kansas and then at the University of Arkansas, had been convicted of embezzlement and mail fraud and sentenced to a year in prison. Gay had been subpoened to testify as a witness in the trial.

While the coach was incarcerated in Texarkana Federal Correctional Institution in Texas he continued supplying Gay and training partners Wallace Spearmon (2007 world championship bronze medallist) and Veronica Campbell-Brown (2007 world 100m champion) with workouts. It was certainly not the best way to go into a world championship.

Upon his release the coach moved to Clermont, Fla. Gay rented a furnished apartment there from December 2007 to April 2008 and the pair worked together laying the foundation for the Olympic campaign. Then he relocated to Arlington, Texas to do more technical training with Jon Drummond, the latter a member of the US world-record sprint relay team.

As for Gay's injury and medal prospects, the final word comes from Jon Drummond, who is never lost for words.

"He's fine," Drummond told the Associated Press recently. "There's nothing to really be overly concerned about. I feel there's no reason why he won't be 100 per cent at the Games."