Usain Bolt's aura of invincibility has effectively been erased. Now that the man who's spent the past half-decade breaking land speed records appears vulnerable, can star U.S. sprinters Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin seize the moment and knock him off his Olympic throne?
Gatlin and Gay are both on comeback trails of a different variety and currently seem to be carrying positive momentum with them on the path to London. The same certainly can't be said for Bolt, who suddenly isn't even the fastest 100-meter sprinter in his home country after losing to Yohan Blake in the Jamaican Olympic Track Trials on Friday.
America's duo of Olympic veterans are on the warpath right now. More importantly, they seem to be peaking at the right time.
Let's start with Gatlin, who broke through as a star at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens (h/t usatf.org). His gold-medal-winning 100-meter dash was the third-fastest in Olympic history at the time.
Gatlin ran a 9.85 in that race. Just this past Sunday, he posted a remarkable 9.80 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. (Reuters, via NBCOlympics.com).
"Everything seems so surreal," Gatlin told reporters after his scintillating performance. "I just went out there and gave it my all.
Following an eight-year absence from the Summer Games scene, Gatlin seems to have shifted into another gear, which should strike fear into the heart of his Olympic competition (h/t Greg Couch, FoxSports.com). In 2010, he returned from a four-year suspension for a positive steroid test as a man on a mission (h/t Dave Ungrady, The New York Times).
“I’ve been tested multiple times since I’ve been back,’’ Gatlin told FOX Sports' Greg Couch. “When I was away, I was still getting tests. It’s not about judging myself or whatever I’ve been through. I’m focused on what’s in front of me.’’
What's in front of Gatlin is another shot at Olympic glory, and the men standing in his way—Bolt and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake—don't seem to scare him one bit.
“I don’t think I would come back to a sport where I would be OK with getting second or third,’’ he told Couch. “We (the U.S. sprinters) all have our eyes on the prize, wanting to get the gold. If that’s the Jamaicans in our way, the whole world in our way, that’s OK. Go around them and get the gold.’’
Gay, who finished second behind Gatlin in the 100 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 9.86, seems fully healed after his own hiatus. The three-time world champion and world record holder for the 200 missed almost a year after his right hip required surgery (h/t Associated Press, Yahoo! Sports).
More appreciative of his talents than ever, Gay is out to prove himself all over again.
"It means a lot more, when you have to struggle, breathing heavy in training, you're sore and coming back from injury—it makes it so much better," Gay told the AP. "If you're like some robot, and can do anything and everything, it's not as sweet."
Gay and Gatlin, the faces of the U.S. Olympic men's track squad, both have sizable chips on their shoulders. You have to wonder if—after all the awards and accolades— Bolt still has the motivation to bring his A-game into every single training session like the two Americans have done during their personal roads of redemption.
“I had a lot of negative doubts,’’ Gay told New York Post reporter Brian Lewis after the U.S. Trials. “I tried to throw them out, but it’s one of those things I had to go through. I couldn’t even jog until March I was in so much pain, but I had to keep fighting.“Since  I had two surgeries. I feel like I’m on the way up. This is only my second race of the year. I started training in March. This is all I could ask for. I knew it was going to be a dogfight. I had to run my heart out to make this team."
Gay is officially a member of Team USA and headed to London, along with Gatlin. Bolt will be waiting.