WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS (ON MAY 17)
Constantly playing second fiddle is a tough enough pill to swallow but Tyson Gay has had to endure an even bigger occupational hazard to being the World’s second-fastest man over the past three seasons – his health, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 28-year-old American can boast mind-blowing 9.69 and 19.58 100m and 200m times, respectively but still finds himself overshadowed by sprint phenomenon Usain Bolt both on and off the track.
To make matters worse, in his ongoing quest to finally topple his great Jamaican rival in the speed stakes, Gay has admitted that the greatest obstacle he has to overcome is in fact his body – put simply, he is running too fast for it to cope.
The quiet, unassuming Kentuckian explained:
“I’ve been seeing some doctors to see how things are and to test where I’m at so I have no expectations (for the summer) yet.
“The pressure to always run fast puts a lot of pressure on the body to deal with and to recover and do it again and again.
“After running so fast last year, it took so much longer to recover – it’s no longer a case of ice-baths and massage, the body needs to just rest so I can’t race that often.
“I don’t want to be scared so I can’t not run as I need to know where I’m at. I haven’t been fully fit since 2007 and then Bolt came along.”
It is a catch-22 situation – rest the long-term hip injury or continue to race and hope for the best, both of which pose a significant risk to improving both his form and chances for glory in the London Olympics next summer.
Guided by Lance Brauman, the 2007 World 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay champion kicked off his 2011 campaign on a specially-laid track on the streets of Manchester last weekend in the Bupa Great CityGames, where he scorched to a 14.51 150m clocking and resounding victory.
Although he fell short of eclipsing triple Olympic champion Bolt’s 14.35 world-best from the 2009 event, Gay announced himself content to leave the track without too much discomfort:
“I was a bit sore but felt pretty good - I came through 100m in 9.91 so I’m where everyone else in the world is right now,” he revealed.
“It was nice to feel comfortable and not feel the pressure here - I wish I could have done the first 100m a bit faster but I’m satisfied.
“I pushed my body as far as it wanted to go today, I’ll see a doctor after an MRI scan this week to get a second opinion as I just want to stay healthy – I’m looking forward to the (World) trials and the World’s.”
The global championship in question is in Daegu, South Korea this coming August and the event will mark an opportunity for Gay to take revenge on Bolt for beating him into the runner-up position in Berlin two years before.
Having become the first man to finish ahead of the 100m and 200m World record-holder since his exploits at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in Stockholm last summer – albeit when he was returning from injury himself – Gay now has added confidence in knowing that his toughest competitor is indeed beatable after all.
It is unlikely that the pair will meet before Daegu and Gay is eager to insist that the lack of pre-championship match ups is not a pre-meditated decision despite reports to the contrary:
“I never duck any competition especially Bolt, people never know what’s going on behind the scenes with injuries etc and I would never say he’s ducking me,” he explained.
“It’s a good thing to race him and I wish I were healthy more often as we bring out the best in each other.”
On the constant comparison and talk of his younger counterpart, he continued:
“It’s ok because if it wasn’t mentioned, then I’m not doing something right – and only the pure joy of track and field gets me out of bed.”
With athletics based lower down the pecking order in American sport, even being the World number-two can-not ensure celebrity status:
“I definitely get more recognised over here (in the UK) - if I give a talk in a school, they’d probably have to introduce me to explain who I am.”
Next taking to the track at the Diamond League event in New York on June eleventh, Gay knows his reputation would be salvaged should he return to World champion status later this summer:
“I want victories and fast times for 2011 - this year, I’m focussing on the 100m but will still do a couple of 200m’s and hope to double next year (in London),” he revealed.
“It might take close to the world-record to get the gold in Daegu and I honestly think I can run 9.5 – maybe I’m crazy but I have to try.”
Longer-term, Gay is desperate to grasp that elusive Olympic gold medal and to gain redemption for his injury-hit performances in Beijing, where he failed to make the 100m final and dropped the baton in the 4x100m relay:
“I think about London a lot. The trials will be tough and I want to redeem myself and stay healthy,” he explained.
“There’s still a hole there that needs to be filled up. I need to get healthy and work on some technical issues first, though.”