Sprinter Tyson Gay wants a shot at four gold medals in Beijing
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Sprinter Tyson Gay was expected to chase three gold medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing. A year ago at the World Track and Field Championships in Osaka, Japan, Gay rushed to the first page of history by winning the 100 meters, (humbling world record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica) 200 meters and anchoring Team USA's gold medal-winning 4x100-meter relay.
It was the type of springboard performance that would leave a man, logically, in pursuit of the same goals on an even bigger stage just one year later. But Gay doesn't want three gold medals in Beijing. He wants four.
"This is an Olympic year," Gay said this week at his spring training base in Texas. "2012 isn't promised to me, so this could be it. I'll be almost 30 years old at that time. You never know when your chance is going to come around again. If there is a possibility that I could run the 4x400 relay at the Olympics, hey, I'll do it."
Gay, 25, wants to be considered for a spot on the U.S. 4x400-meter relay, which would put him in position to match Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis as the only male Olympians to win four track and field gold medals in the same Games. (And Gay would become the only one to win four golds on the track; Owens and Lewis both won the long jump, in addition to the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay).
"No disrespect to any 400-meter runners in the United States," said Gay. "Because running the 400 is their job. And this being an Olympic year, guys are going to step up to the plate ridiculously. I'd probably be a long-shot. But that's why I'm training real, real hard right now. The 400 meters, even professional 400 runners are a little afraid of that event. They say, 'I don't want to die. I don't want to die.' (Translation here for the non-track-speaking: "Die," means slow down excruciatingly in the last 50 to 100 meters, not, literally, die. Although it can feel that way).
"I'm not going to die," said Gay. "I've got heart."
Gay began thinking about a fourth medal after watching Allyson Felix split 48-flat in the women's 4x400 at the worlds. Felix ran primarily the 100 and 200 last year (and throughout her career, although she trains longer than Gay and ran a fast open 400 in August). During the winter Gay trained with Lance Braumann in Orlando. In late March, he moved to Texas to work with Jon Drummond. He opened his outdoor season by running both a 4x100 and a 4x400 at the Texas Relays on the first weekend in April. Running leadoff from lane one, Gay clocked 45.2 for his 400-meter split, an outstanding time. (Although 2004 Olympian and two-time world champion Jeremy Wariner split 43.5 in the same relay. "He's in a league all by himself," said Gay).
Gay remembers his peers chiding him before the relay. Hey Tyson, take it out in 19. "People were making a joke out of it," says Gay. "Honestly man, here's the way I feel about it: People call me a world-class sprinter. I think, to be called a world-class sprinter, you should be able to step on the track and run something fast in the 400 meters. That's just how I look at it.
"So people were cracking jokes at Texas Relays, but I was like, I'm trying to run good. I'm not going to do anything stupid, but I wanted to run a good split. I was doing it for fitness, to see how strong I was, but I was also doing it to prove a point. A lot of people thought it was a joke. But I took it seriously. Forty-five- two wasn't bad for me. I really think if I ran it a few more times I could run 44-something in an open quarter."
Drummond agrees: "He's capable of running 44-mid in an open race."
Gay is in spectacular shape already. Last Sunday he anchored a 4x100 relay at the Mt. SAC Relays in California and scorched an unofficial 8.88-second leg. His training has been rigorous and fast.
(We have reached the point in this column where you either say "I don't care, they're all on drugs," and click over to Peter King, or you keep reading. Track is in turmoil. Maurice Greene was named in the New York Times for allegedly buying a load of steroids. Marion Jones is in prison. It's not pretty, and Gay is launching his Olympic bid in the middle of this crap-storm. For the record, he says he's clean and always has been.)
It is reasonable to assume that Gay can run in the 44s somewhere. He has run 19.62 seconds for 200 meters into a headwind, and he doesn't have the squat body type that would hinder some sprinters from stretching out. Gay wanted to run the 4x400 relays last weekend at Mt. SAC and this weekend at the Penn Relays. Drummond talked him out of it, imploring him to save his body for a fast 200 meters in Jamaica (not against Powell) on May 3.
Complicating matters, it's not like the U.S. is hurting for 4x400 runners. Wariner (43.45 seconds) is the third-fastest man in history, behind his mentor, Michael Johnson (43.18) and Butch Reynolds (43.29). LaShawn Merritt ran under 44 seconds behind Wariner at the worlds. Veteran Angelo Taylor, the 400-meter hurdles gold medalist from 2000, ran 44.05 at the U.S. championships. Hurdler Kerron Clement ran 44.48 last year. Andrew Rock, who finished second at the worlds in 2005 (44.35 PR), is coming back from injuries. Darold Williamson, Wariner's teammate at Baylor, ran 44.27 in 2005 (that's .01 slower than Alberto Juantorena's PR, just for perspective) and is always brilliant in four-by-fours. It's a long list of very strong candidates.
Any member of the U.S. team can be named to a relay, but to strengthen his position, Gay would need to run an open 400 meters in a time that ranks among the top six U.S. runners. By August, that will probably be far south of 44.50 seconds. "And I'll be worn out by the time we get to the 4x4 at the Olympics," says Gay. "But like I said, this is the Olympics and I want to put it out there."
Gay is already facing a 100-meter showdown with Powell. And a 200-meter showdown with any two of half-a-dozen very fast countrymen and Usain Bolt of Jamaica. The 4x100 relay is enough pressure to melt a man's skin. All this and Gay wants more. Give him this: He's not hiding from the heat.