DEEP IN the night,
U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay stripped to a slight pair of running shorts and lowered
his battered body into an inflatable tub of ice water, groaning audibly as the
frigid liquid numbed his legs. Four hours earlier last Thursday night he had
won the 200-meter gold medal at the 11th World Track and Field Championships,
in Osaka, Japan, adding to the 100-meter gold he took on Aug. 26. Two days
later he would run the third leg on the winning U.S. 4...100 relay, becoming
only the second man in world championship history—Maurice Greene was the first,
in 1999—to win those signature events in a single year. For the moment
exhaustion consumed feelings of glory.
man," said Gay, dropping his head back against the rim of the tub. "And
next year is going to be even harder."
Track and field's
biennial world championships unfold in a predictable rhythm: In the year
following the Olympic Games they are a curtain call for gold medalists who hope
to validate their achievements. In the year preceding the Games they are a
prelude to the bigger show ahead.
punishing heat, sparse crowds at Nagai Stadium on many nights and proof again
that the United States remains the most potent force in the sport. Team USA won
26 medals, matching its total from the 1991 Tokyo worlds and the '88 Seoul
Olympics. Three U.S. athletes emerged as central characters in the yearlong
run-up to Beijing: Gay; sprinter Allyson Felix, who became the second woman in
world championship history (and the first since Marita Koch of East Germany in
'83) to earn three gold medals; and Kenyan expatriate distance runner Bernard
Lagat, the first runner to win the 1,500 and 5,000 meters at the same
All three U.S.
athletes were brilliant. All face fresh challenges in the months ahead.
opening-weekend victory over world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica was an
affirmation of his breakthrough this season, a triumph of speed and technique
at the highest levels. His 200 win four days later was pure courage. Running
his eighth race in six days, Gay was beaten off the turn by another Jamaican,
Usain Bolt, but rallied to win. "I could have said I've already got the
glory race, just take the silver," says Gay. "But I didn't want to do
Gay, 25, is a
sweet soul, quiet to the point of whispering. He listens to gospel music on his
iPod before races, from a downloaded Kirk Franklin and the Family CD that he
has used since junior college, and while in Osaka he bought a digital camera to
preserve his experience. "I want to have some memories," says Gay.
"I was thinking after the 100, I've got a medal, but I don't have any
memories. I wanted to take some pictures of my friends who I might not see
after we're all retired."
From the start of
the season Gay has squirmed in the spotlight, and that glare will soon be
brighter; few athletes attract Olympic hype like the 100-meter favorite.
"It's one thing to get there; it's another thing to be there," says
track legend Carl Lewis, who entered at least two Olympics under intense
scrutiny. "Tyson will find his time more valuable to everyone. Every time
he runs a bad race, it's 'What's wrong with him?' He has to stay calm."
First up for Gay,
who lives and trains primarily in Fayetteville, Ark., is resolving his
complicated coaching situation. His longtime coach, Lance Brauman, was serving
a year-long prison sentence during the season for embezzlement and mail fraud.
Gay relied on a notebook of workouts that Brauman wrote last November, but in
April, Gay also began working on starts and sprint technique with former
Olympian Jon Drummond in Dallas. Brauman was released to a halfway house on
Aug. 28 and is expected to be freed on Sept. 27. However, he plans to move to
Orlando with his wife and daughter.
Gay would prefer
to remain in Fayetteville but will consider training in Orlando. Beyond that,
he will try to balance two coaches. "I couldn't have done it this year
without J.D.," says Gay. "But I'd like to show some loyalty to Coach
Brauman. I'm going to find a way to make it work."