It was supposed to have been the climactic finale—the mouth watering replay of the 2009 World Championship 100-meter dash in Berlin.
Yes, that race.
The one where Usain Bolt obliterated (9.58) his own amazing 9.69 world record from Beijing, 2008.
The one where Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, the world's next fastest sprinters ever, were sucked along in Bolt's draft to post incredible, yet inadequate times of their own (9.71 and 9.84).
The one which catapulted Bolt into stratospheric realms, beyond the reach of mere humanity.
But that was 2009 and this is 2010, and since that race, a few million gallons of water has flowed under the bridge—
- Later in 2009, Gay equaled Bolt's former world record and established a new American record (9.69) in Shanghai in a race he described as "not technically good".
- The 2010 season has been the quadrennial "down year" with no global championships, thus many athletes have used 2010 as a year to retreat from intensive training regimens to rest and heal.
- The new Diamond League series of 14 international meets was launched, promising track and field fans multiple head-to-head showdowns. While there were several extremely talent-laden meets and exceptional performances, many of the elite match-ups failed to materialize because of the down year or debilitating injuries.
- Gay beat Powell in Gateshead, then beat Bolt in Stockholm, then established the season's best time (9.78) in London.
- Bolt and Powell have since shut down their seasons, citing lower back (some say spine) problems.
So now, instead of the Big Three getting together in Brussels this Friday at the final Diamond League meet (and that sumptuous re-match of 2009), only Gay remains to give fans a glimpse of the brilliance which might have been.
But don't sell Gay short.
He is a determined competitor who has been gaining confidence with each race. And without the pounding hooves of Bolt or Powell to motivate him in Brussels, the clock may have just become his most potent rival.
"I think I have a lot left in the tank," Gay said in a recent press conference. "I know the track (Brussels) is extremely fast. I'm going to give it my best and hopefully, I'll PR."
At 28, perhaps Gay sees 2010 as a year of fleeting opportunity rather than a year to seek shelter and rest. Indeed, his year has been marked by several milestones.
In May, Gay broke Tommie Smith's 44-year-old record in the straight-track 200m in an impressive early-season 19.41.
In July's Prefontaine meet, he fought through rusty joints and sore muscles to finish a close second to Walter Dix in the 200m in 19.76. More importantly, Gay disposed of the ghost which had haunted him for two years—the traumatic hamstring injury in the 2008 Olympic Trials on that same track
Last week in Zurich, Gay helped the US 4x100m relay team to a win in the fifth fastest time ever (37.46).
Gay's weakest link—his start—has never looked better than it has this year.
And then of course, the victory over Bolt in Stockholm and his world-best 9.78 in London, bucking a headwind in cool, damp conditions.
So, while many have already thrown in the towel for 2010, Tyson Gay has methodically been increasing the value of his stock.
Even without the likes of Bolt and Powell, meet organizers have put together a field of sub-10 sprinters who could push Gay into uncharted territory—Nesta Carter, Jamaica (9.86), Yohan Blake, Jamaica (9.89), Richard Thompson, Trinidad-Tobago (9.89), Daniel Bailey, Antigua (9.91), and Trell Kimmons, USA (9.95).
Kimmons, by the way, has been somewhat of a lucky charm for Gay. In some of Gay's better races, Trell's crisp starts have actually pulled Gay out of the blocks and into his drive phase more smoothly.
As someone who has been running under the thumb of Bolt's dominance these many months, perhaps it's time Gay re-emerged as a serious contender to challenge that reign. A strong race and a new American Record in Brussels would certainly help that cause.
And for the sport of Track and Field, it couldn't come at a better time.
Other interesting events at Brussels
Men's 800m—David Rudisha (Kenya), new world-record-holder (1:41.09) is still hungry and wants more. Abubaker Kaki (Sudan) and Boaz Lalang (Kenya) guarantee a quality race.
Men's Javelin—Norwegian champion Andreas Thorkildsen will try to hold off his Finn challengers, Tero Pitkamaki and Teemu Wirkkala. All are due for big throws.
Men's Shot Put—American Christian Cantwell is motivated to do something special to erase the memory of his rare loss in London. The usual suspects round out the quality field—Tomasz Majewski (Poland) and Americans Reese Hoffa, Cory Martin, Adam Nelson, and David Taylor.
Women's 800m—This will be 2009 World Champion Caster Semenya's (S. Africa) third race since returning from an 11-month banishment. She will get her first real test from an absolutely loaded sub-2:00 field. World 2010 leaders Alysia Johnson (USA) and Russian Mariya Savinova will not go quietly into the night. Nor will the British tandem of Jemma Simpson and Jennifer Meadows. Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei and American Anna Pierce could surprise.
Women's 100m Hurdles—Canada (Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Perdita Felicien) vs. USA (Lolo Jones and Queen Harrison). 'Nuff said.
Women's High Jump—Croatian pogo stick, Blanka Vlasic is ever so close to a world record. Will it be this week? Germany's Ariane Friedrich challenges.
Live coverage at Universal Sports
This article also published at Sports Then and Now
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lead photo: Andy Lyons (Getty)