U.S. Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay has always been a long-shot.
Since returning from injury earlier this year, Gay has fought an uphill battle in his quest to rejoin the world's top contenders in the 100-meters. After hip surgery nearly one year ago, Gay's 2012 Olympic prospects were in jeopardy—could this two-time World Cup gold medal winner rebound and return to glory not seen since the 21st century's first decade?
Gay might hold the Eugene-specific and American overall records for the 100, but both marks were set prior to his hip surgery, in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Since his surgery, Gay had not run a single high-profile race, much less had an opportunity to medal.
Since 2011, Gay had fallen off the track & field radar.
With so much left uncertain in early June, when Gay's first performance—a 10.00-second outing in New York—gave way to a 9.86-second performance at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, the fluke Grand Prix production became more than just a one-time stroke of luck.
Tyson Gay is now officially back on the map.
Now that Gay has proven to himself—as much as anyone else—that his surgically repaired hip is no ailment, his Olympic training can fully begin. In sports, confidence is half the battle, and Gay is surely getting there.
After all, Gay has already beaten Jamaican phenom and current world-record holder Usain Bolt, albeit not on the world's largest stage—yet.
Prior to the final, Gay vowed to, "let it all hang out," he promised to give it his all. On the one hand, 9.86 is a tremendous performance for a man who restarted competitive racing just months earlier, a man who, with the fingers of one hand, can count how many races he's run since hip surgery.
On the other hand, 9.86 seconds doesn't mean what it did in 2008—sure, 9.86 would have earned Gay a silver medal at the Beijing Games, but this is 2012, and Olympic sprinters have only gotten faster.
2008 silver medalist Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago has already improved upon his then-personal best of 9.89. After putting up the mark in Beijing, Thompson ran a 9.85 in 2011, setting yet another national record.
Fellow American Justin Gatlin—who is fighting his own battle back after a four-year ban from athletics after testing positive for a banned substance—ran a personal-best 9.80 at Eugene in the same race Gay ran a 9.86.
Even Bolt, who himself set a world record with a 9.69-second run in Beijing, has become faster than he was during his first Olympics. At the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Bolt ran a sizzling 9.58-seconds to reset the world record.
Indeed—and precisely because of his injury—Gay will have a significant few hundredths of a second to make up between now and his London debut.
And this assumes that Gay remains healthy.
When Gay underwent acetabular labral surgery, he encountered a certain degree of risk—up to 25 percent, to be precise (via PhysTher.net).
With complications including articular damage or other failure, Gay should count himself fortunate that no apparent complications have manifested in the 11 months since his surgery.
However, one key complication to consider is neurovascular damage, which itself may be related to stress, prolonged traction or direct trauma to the surgically repaired region.
In other words, Gay's repeated pounding of the pavement and increasingly quick movement of the affected hip may inadvertently spur a surgery complication—if he tests the hip too much, Gay may find himself unable to compete.
Just ask Wimbledon qualifier Brian Baker.
Baker's tale is one of great tribulation—and yet, the end result may be associated with significant tennis success.
Due to constant pavement and court pounding and a large degree of rapid, violent movement, Baker has undergone three hip surgeries, suffering complications and other ailments after the first two attempts.
USA Today reported that Baker said this regarding his most recent go-around, "My hips won't be 100 percent, but they are night and day better."
For Gay, odds of London success may begin and end with surgery complication risk, even one year removed from the actual operation. Yet because Gay elected a leisurely, nine-month recovery, he hopefully has allowed his body to fully heal, reducing his chances of contracting another hip-related affliction.
Nonetheless, it has been a delicate balancing act for Gay—self-preservation vs. getting left behind. At this stage heading into the London Games, Gay prepares for his most grueling month of training yet.
Over the next few weeks, Gay will push his surgically repaired hip to a level it has not seen since 2010 or earlier. Whether he holds up medically and whether he can achieve competitive form—in 2012 numbers, not 2008 ones—will be key to determining his odds of London success.
That 9.86 result in Eugene is a promising start, though Gay still has a long journey to achieve peak performance.