Perhaps Tyson Gay ought to thank Usain Bolt for beating him so soundly and so surprisingly last month.
That lopsided loss — Gay was a distant second as Bolt broke the world record in the 100 meters — led to some serious tinkering. Gay and his coach, former sprinter Jon Drummond, took a look at his start, his stride, his strategy.
Seems fair to say they knew what they were doing: On Sunday, Gay ran 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.
Tyson Gay, left, finishes the men’s 100-meter semifinals ahead of Ivory Williams, right, and Xavier Carter at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.
A blur in blue, Gay clocked 9.68 seconds to win the 100 final at the U.S. Olympic trials, a time that will not be entered in the books as a world record because it came with the help of a too-strong tailwind.
Still, this is what matters to Gay and Drummond: The sprinter qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice that his name should be mentioned alongside those of Jamaicans Bolt and Asafa Powell in any discussion about who could win the dash in Beijing.
“We need to get some type of flame-retardant uniform in case he catches on fire,” said Drummond, no stranger to hyperbole. “He’s running so doggone fast.”
That is definitely true.
Gay timed a legal 9.77 in a quarterfinal Saturday to break Maurice Greene’s American record of 9.79.
Back on May 31, on a stormy night in New York, Gay finished in 9.85, easing up as he watched Bolt better Powell’s mark of 9.74.
“When someone comes to your country and then kicks your butt and then breaks the world record — puts a cherry on top — that right there can put something on your mind a little bit,” Gay said before competing in Eugene. “But after a week or so, I was able to block it out and get back to business.”
Gay and Drummond quickly realized the setback actually was a good thing.
It forced them to really analyze Gay’s running.
The major problem, essentially: Gay was bringing his feet too high behind his back with each stride. Gay calls it “butt-kicking,” explaining that he was nearly hitting himself in the backside with his shoes before bringing each leg forward, while Bolt was turning his strides over more efficiently.
“The joy I have in this is he worked hard, he believed in what we were doing,” Drummond said. “He believed in me enough to come back and let me work with him some more.”
Wearing a royal blue uniform with red and white diagonal stripes across the front, along with matching shoes, all in a tribute to 1936 Olympic star Jesse Owens, Gay dominated the competition Sunday.
He got out of the blocks well — “awesome,” Drummond called it — and pulled out to a comfortable lead by the 40-meter mark.
This time, Gay kept pumping those legs all the way through the finish line, extending his lead. In Saturday’s opening heat, Gay pulled way up, way too soon, and nearly was caught by the field, before accelerating again and lunging in for fourth place.
No such close call this time.
The previous fastest 100 under any conditions was 9.69, run in 1996 by Obadele Thompson, who now is married to Marion Jones.
Gay’s race came with the wind blowing at 4.1 meters per second; anything above 2.0 is not allowed for record purposes.
“I didn’t really care what the wind was,” Gay said.
Walter Dix, the 2007 NCAA champion from Florida State, overtook Darvis Patton in the final 20 meters for second place. Dix clocked 9.80 and Patton 9.84, as each of the first six finalists turned in times under 10 seconds.
“When I looked up and saw the numbers,” Dix said, “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s fast.’ ”
It sure was.
Unlike some of his predecessors in the spotlight-attracting dash, the 25-year-old Gay is not one to brag or talk trash. Consider him the silent, speedy type.
Asked to assess his performance Sunday, this was about the best he could muster: “It was OK.”
Drummond, an Olympic relay gold medalist in 2000, is not one to shy away from a boast or bold prediction. So the coach was quick to note that he figures he’ll find flaws when he reviews tape of Gay’s performance Sunday. Drummond kept telling Gay that a time below 9.7 was possible, and now he wants to set about getting his sprinter in even better form for Beijing.
“There’s no perfect race. You’re always going to find ways to improve,” Drummond said. “You’re always going to find ways to upgrade.”
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