WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Quiet, modest and even shy, his personality is the opposite of the archetypical bold, brash sprinter; yet American Tyson Gay prefers to let his legs do the talking and 2010 is the year the world number-two 100m man has a steely ambition to rise from the ominous shadow of a certain Mr Bolt, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 2007 World 100m and 200m champion has been reduced to the understudy role in global sprinting for the past two years, partly down to the phenomenal record-breaking exploits of Jamaica’s triple Olympic and World champion, Usain Bolt but also courtesy of his reluctance to thrive in the media and athletics spotlight.
The 27 year-old from Kentucky claims his humble approach to coping with global superstardom comes from his mother:
"It (the attention) makes me smile, sometimes it's overwhelming a little bit because I'm just a country boy from Kentucky, who just runs for the love of track. My friends and family know that I don't like to be the centre of attention but the victory lap after the 100m in 2007 is one I will never forget."
19.41 World Best
Gay ran a blistering 9.71 in the World 100m final in Berlin last summer, only to once again play second fiddle to his young, tall Caribbean rival, who continued breaking his own sprint bests for fun with a 9.58 apparent dawdle in August.
But now fully-recovered from the groin operation he had last autumn, Arkansas-based Gay is determined to capture the unofficial world’s fastest man title this year; albeit in a far more focused and unassuming manner to that of Bolt; the clown prince of the track.
"I don't have a sharp pain with it (the groin) anymore, but I still have some minor niggles in training,” Gay explained. “My faith’s helped me through the injury and through the pain.”
Evidently in a clean bill of health last weekend, Gay; coached by Lance Brauman and Jon Drummond, sped down an artificial 200m straight at the Powerade City Games in Manchester city centre to break the world best in a scintillating 19.41.
Such a fine early-season performance will have undoubtedly alerted Bolt and his compatriot Asafa Powell; Gay’s two main challengers for supremacy and boosted his confidence in terms of achieving such lofty ambitions when tackling the pair later this summer.
After breaking legendary Thommie Smith’s 44-year-old global mark by a tenth of a second, Gay said:
"Going into the race I knew it was going to be tough to beat the record. It was pretty hard for the first 100m or so and I was extremely tired. Kim Collins (runner-up) had an excellent start and I think that motivated me to get down the street. It was truly amazing and it was tough record to break."
After only less than ten days of speed-work and a couple of sessions back in spikes since the summer, Gay will now knuckle down to hard graft ahead of a mouth-watering clash with Bolt in New York next month, in addition to at least another two head-to-heads with the Jamaican duo during the IAAF Diamond League in the 2010 campaign.
Indeed, Gay’s season got off to an eye-catching start when he took to the 400m for endurance work last month; clocking a surprisingly-quick 44.89 over the one-lap distance thus becoming the first man in history to go under 10-seconds for the 100m, 20-seconds for the 200m and 45-seconds over 400m.
“Sub-45 was run by accident and it felt really good,” Gay revealed. “I did the 400m for fitness and to help my 200m.”
All the more evidence that Adidas-man Gay is set to rock the proverbial boat this summer and potentially end Bolt’s precession of victories.
Gay, too is the type of character that thrives on pressured confrontation. A dogged determination and a calm outlook, the 2007 IAAF World Athlete of the Year is evidently relishing the chance to prove his return to top-flight sprinting can cause shockwaves throughout the sport once again.
"The change in mentality in me was huge after Berlin," Gay explained. "There's a little pressure there, anytime you run against Bolt it's a pressure. But I want him to bring the best out in me. If he does that then hopefully I can PR [personal record] in both (the 100m and 200m)."
“I’m very driven to beat Bolt and give the fans a good show. I believe I need him to run fast – I proved I can run my best against him. I’m trying hard to get level and beat him. We have a mutual respect for each other.”
Gradually climbing out of his illustrious counterpart’s shadow, Gay tries to ‘zone out’ of the constant comparisons in the media circus that surround the duo and has a strong belief that he will soon reclaim his world’s fastest man title.
"It hurts me to hear he's unbeatable but it makes me train harder. It motivates me to do what I have to do,” Gay explained. “I believe I can beat him, but he's going to be tough to beat. Honestly he's in another class right now but I'm working hard to get there. The challenge is for me to work hard to get to where he is at.
"Sometimes it crosses my mind (that Bolt is unbeatable) but you can't listen to the critics. I just try to stay in my room and stay away from the blogs and all of that. To win means more to me than a fast time any day.”
Winning means more
Trying his best to avoid the uproar over his fiercest rival, Gay also accepts the fight for global supremacy is not just a two-horse battle:
“Asafa’s definitely a threat because he's had the world record before. He knows what it feels like to run a world record so I wouldn't sleep on him. He knows what it takes to break records.”
Also believing he still has the talent to win is his biggest fan, Gay’s nine-year-old daughter Trinity: “I’m travelling the world and my daughter can respect me and see my races on You-Tube; she sometimes comes to the bigger races, though. She started running this year and is doing really well.”
Not quite as well as Daddy, though – yet, who knows?