Asafa Powell has cracked under pressure in the past

Hamburg: Tyson Gay appears to have the necessary speed and experience as he aims for the most prestigious gold medal on offer at the Beijing Olympics — in the 100 metres sprint.

Gay established himself as a championship runner when he claimed a convincing 100m and 200m double at the 2007 World championships in Osaka, Japan.

The speed aspect came in late June when he ran the fastest recorded time in the history of mankind over the distance, 9.68 seconds, at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene. A heavy tailwind did not allow the time to stand as a world record but the race gave Gay plenty of confidence.

“I am glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me. It means a lot to me,” Gay said. The result, plus a legal National record of 9.77 seconds in the quarterfinals the previous day should make Gay’s Jamaican rivals worry.

Separated by a fraction

Usain Bolt is the world record holder with 9.72 seconds and Asafa Powell the previously fastest man with 9.74 seconds. With the three now only separated by a fraction, experience at big events should favour Gay, although there is some doubt over his Beijing participation after he crashed out of the 200m race at the U.S. trials and needed treatment. The accident, which saw him sprawling to the ground, has already ended any hopes he had of making it a sprint double in Beijing.

Bolt will be competing in his first major championship if he decides to run the 100m. Powell has cracked under pressure in the past in races for medals rather than records. There is quite a family influence as Gay became a world class sprinter with nerves like steel. It took him until the age of 14 before he could run faster than his then 15-year-old sister Tiffany, whom he has named his inspiration to become a runner.

And, after finishing a disappointing fourth over 200m at the 2005 Worlds, he needed a confidence-boosting pep talk from his mother before becoming the 100m World champion.

“I was wondering if people would still respect me if I lost. My mother told me I had to mature from 2005. She said I shouldn’t worry and believe in myself,” he said on that night.

Gay has remained surprisingly modest despite the hype and fame, a far cry from boisterous 2000 gold medallist Maurice Greene. He once named himself ‘just a country boy from Lexington’ and only rarely basks in the spotlight.

“My friends and family know that I don’t like to be the centre of attention, but that victory lap is one I will never forget,” he said in Osaka.

That makes it somewhat surprising that he trains under Jon Drummond, a former 100m ace who was famously kicked out of the 2005 Worlds for throwing a tantrum on the track after a disqualification for false-starting.

Drummond doesn’t mix his words and the results at the trials show how well he has worked with Gay over just four weeks since being a distant second behind Bolt in the May 31 world record run.

Drummond named that showing ‘the fastest worst race I’ve ever seen anybody run’ and mainly worked with Gay on keeping his feet lower behind his back on each stride.

The technical corrections paid off as Drummond could brag after the fastest 100m run in recorded history that ‘we need to get some kind of flame-retardant uniform in case he catches on fire.’

Laughing matter?

It is not known whether Gay was aware that his race in Eugene also led to embarrassment — or a good laugh, depending on the viewpoint — on the internet. A news website, said to be run by the conservative American Family Association, seemingly uses an automated word-replacer to make the reports on its site politically correct.

As a result, the wire service story headline read ‘Homosexual wins trials 100 in wind-aided 9.68 seconds’ and the word Gay was also replaced by homosexual throughout the story.

The original version was restored a few hours later, but the AFA, just like the Jamaican runners, will have to be on their guard when the Olympic final comes on August 16.

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