He's a guy you've got to root for.
Sprinter Tyson Gay is the second fastest man in the world and has beaten Usain Bolt before, but injury woes have kept him from his dream of Olympic gold.
At 29, the soft-spoken Kentucky native will have a final shot at the top of the medal stand this summer in London. Still rehabbing from hip surgery and trying to get back to full speed before the U.S. Olympic trials, Gay has become a fascinating figure to follow as he prepares to compete in track's most glamorous event.
Here are 10 things you should know about Tyson Gay as he heads towards glory or heartbreak. Either way, it will be a run you can't look away from...
Bolt is the undisputed fastest man in the world at the moment, but Gay beat him two years ago in Stockholm.
It's no secret that Gay and Usain Bolt are arch-rivals.
Gay will be competing in the 100 meters in the upcoming Olympic trials, an event in which he holds the U.S. record of 9.69 seconds. The only man to ever beat that mark is Bolt, who ran a 9.58 in Berlin in 2009. Gay has beaten Bolt before, though, handing the Jamaican his only loss since 2008 in a 2010 meet in Stockholm.
In a 2010 radio interview with BBC, Bolt agreed that Gay is his nemesis; and although the mild-mannered Gay isn't the type to talk smack, Bolt certainly is.
In the interview, Bolt said Gay's Stockholm win didn't really count because it wasn't in the World Championships.
"It's not a championship year. It's kind of my year off," said Bolt.
Later in the interview, he speculated how Gay feels about him:
"Every time he runs fast, I run faster than he does. I think deep down he hates my guts."
A missed handoff from teammate Darvis Patton cost Gay and the 4x100 relay team to be disqualified in Beijing. Gay also missed the finals in the 100 meters.
Gay ran a blazing 9.68 in the 100 meters at the 2008 Olympic Trials prior to Beijing. That would have been a world record if not for favorable wind conditions. Later in the meet, he pulled up with a hamstring injury in the 200 meters, which he was favored to win.
The hamstring kept him from training properly heading into Beijing, and he was knocked out in the semifinals. Then, in the 4x100, he was part of a baton-drop that disqualified the Americans.
"It was like coming off a high and going to the lowest point of my life in a span of 12 months," he told CNN recently.
Gay avoids the flashy behavior that many other champion sprinters are known for.
The 100 is the glitziest of track events, and sprinters are often flashy (see Michael Johnson’s golden shoes). But you probably won’t see too many Bolt-esque poses should Gay triumph in London.
“My mom never really liked cocky guys and that’s how I was raised,” he says. “I know she didn’t like Maurice Greene as she assumed he was cocky because of the way he acted in races. She didn’t like his swagger until she ended up sharing a taxi cab [with him] in 2005."
He has never taken his success for granted, either.
“It makes me smile,” he said to his hometown Lexington Herald Leader in 2007. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming, a little bit. Because I’m just a country boy from Lexington, Kentucky, who just runs for the love of track. But when I see guys like Michael Johnson and Frankie Fredericks and Maurice Greene, and I’ve run some of the same times they have, it’s just shocking.”
Gay has been vocal in support anti-doping policies.
Don’t even think about suspecting him as a "doper" if he comes back from his injuries and takes gold in London. Back in 2008, Gay was one of the first Olympic athletes to join in the USADA’s new drug testing program that requires multiple blood and urine samples to be tested regularly against baseline levels.
He’s also one of the 12 initial athletes to volunteer for the USADA’s “My Victory” program, which offers athletes a chance to pledge themselves to clean competition.
In Beijing, he offered a 100-percent guarantee that he will never test positive for PEDs.
"That's one thing I respect about having the Games here in London, they don't play no games and they were big on the anti-doping thing," Gay told CNN. "There's a possibility that they're a little bit less forgiving than America is when it comes to that and I really respect them for that."
Gay went down in the 200 meters at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
Gay is as fragile as a teetering Jenga tower after 20 moves.
His injuries have continued to hamper his training. The hamstring kept him out of the 200 in Beijing, and since then he has gone through surgeries on his groin and hip. Until February, he was off the track rehabbing.
“Except for a little bit in the Fall, until five weeks ago I was off the track, just trying do rehab,” he said in an April interview with The Telegraph. “In January I wasn’t even able to jog. Now I am able to jog a little bit, go a little bit faster than a jog.”
As a result, he’s not going to compete for the 200 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“It only makes sense to focus on the 100 after the setbacks I have had this year. We are going to put everything in one basket at the trials,” he said.
With his past, American track fans are crossing their fingers, knocking on wood and throwing coins into fountains hoping that nothing happens before London.
Gay comes off as a sweetheart based on how he responds to fans.
You can tell a lot about an athlete from their Twitter account. Some spend it flirting with female fans, some use it as nothing but a tool to promote themselves, and some use it to talk trash or say controversial things that they know are going to get picked up on ESPN.
One look at Gay’s Twitter feed (@TysonLGay), which has a modest 24,000 followers, and you’ll see that he’s one of the good guys.
He constantly responds to his fans and wishes them luck when they ask for it:
Ask for a Retweet... I bet you get one.
Gay cleans up pretty well.
Back on his Twitter feed, he’s got female fans drooling:
“I’m 29 years old and, sure, I’m looking to find a wife,” he said. “My daughter’s mother and I are no longer dating, and the people I’m most likely to date are those around me, who are athletes. I’ve dated athletes before but it’s too tough because we have the same job, we deal with the same problems and both do a very selfish sport.”
In other words, he's single and looking to mingle, and you don’t have to be a track star to snag him. Good luck girls.
Gay appreciates his life at home and his family.
Gay is a devoted son, brother and father.
He grew up racing his older sister, Tiffany, and credits her with starting his career.
"She had a quick start," he says on his website. "She inspired me."
His teenage daughter, Trinity, is also a budding track star, and papa plans to be there for her every step of the way.
"She is not a little girl anymore and she is at the age when she understands what I'm doing, so now I'm at a point where I want to be involved in more of her sports," he told CNN.
Adidas is one of Gay's main sponsors.
Gay wants gold, and nothing else will do.
In 2007 he became the second man in history to ever win three events at the World Championships — the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 relay. He’s the American record-holder in the 100 meters. In other words, he’s going to go down as one of the greatest runners ever. But he’s still missing Olympic gold, badly.
"I’m still trying to find that happiness in life,” he admitted to the London Evening Standard. “I want to find that defining moment that you’re satisfied and you’ve done what you want to do in your life.”
He’s looking for the exclamation point on his career, and being injury-prone at 29, this will likely be his last shot at the Olympics.
It's all or nothing for America's fastest man, and if and when he crosses that finish line in London, he will have fallen short if there is anyone in front of him... Particularly a tall Jamaican by the name of Bolt.