DES MOINES, Iowa — Tyson Gay rarely, if ever, talks trash and barely, if at all, speaks much higher than a whisper.
He’s far from your ordinary sprinter in that regard, preferring to let his performances on the track do his boasting.
Over the weekend, his races spoke loud and clear: The Tyson Gay of old is back. Not only back, but possibly better than ever.
Gay easily won the 100 and 200 meters at U.S. championships, running season-leading times that are sure to catch the attention of Usain Bolt in Jamaica. It also proved that Gay’s surgically repaired hip is indeed fully mended as he leads a youthful U.S. squad into the world championships in Moscow in August.
“I say this and I mean this: A healthy Tyson Gay wins championships,” his coach, Jon Drummond, said.
Over even Bolt?
“Absolutely,” Drummond said. “Bolt respects Tyson probably more than anyone. He knows Tyson is his fiercest competitor.”
Nationals weren’t just the Tyson Gay show. There were quite a few unfamiliar names making headlines, like teenager Mary Cain after her savvy second-place finish in the 1,500 meters earned her a spot on the world team.
Or the performance of 100 hurdler Brianna Rollins, who finished in 12.26 seconds to break the American record set by Gail Devers in 2000. That wasn’t it from the youngsters, either: Former Oregon standout English Gardner won the 100 and Kimberlyn Duncan, fresh off winning another NCAA sprint title at LSU, beat Allyson Felix in the Olympic champion’s signature event, the 200.
Unknowns now, but after Moscow it could be a different story.
“All these new faces are great,” former Olympic champion Maurice Greene said. “The United States now is about to start showing the rest of the world how good we really are.”
Actually, it pretty much started at the London Games, when the U.S. captured 29 medals, the country’s biggest haul at a major meet since winning 30 at the 1992 Summer Games.
However, one of the individuals responsible for the recent medal surge is departing USA Track and Field. Benita Fitzgerald Mosley will leave her post as chief of sport performance for a position with the U.S. Olympic Committee. She stepped into her role four years ago, when ousted CEO Doug Logan helped generate a report termed “Project 30,” which was the number of medals Logan thought the U.S. should aim for in 2012.
“I had a target on my back,” Mosley said, laughing. “But we all pulled together around our high-performance plan to try to elevate the performance of the U.S. team. We were successful.”
The Americans certainly have quite a few new faces making the trip to Russia.
Quite a few familiar ones, too. Among the other big names earning spots include Olympic champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton (decathlon), `08 Beijing Games gold medalist LaShawn Merritt (400), Felix (200), Bernard Lagat (5,000), London Games silver medalist Galen Rupp (10,000; along with 5,000), `04 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin (100) and indoor record holder Jenn Suhr (pole vault).
Oh, and Gay. He will put that hip to the supreme test against Bolt, who typically saves his best for major meets. It’s setting up to be quite a competition.
“Tyson can be great if he’s healthy,” Greene said.
In recent seasons, that hasn’t been the case. Gay has dealt with nagging injuries ever since winning the 100 and 200 at the worlds in 2007. These days, though, there are no groin tweaks, hamstring tightness or hip twinges holding him back.
He’s running without pain, as evidenced by his fast times. He beat Justin Gatlin in the 100 by finishing in 9.75 seconds.
Then, two days later — with his hip still feeling good — Gay roared around the curve and held off a hard-charging Isiah Young in a time of 19.74.
“You’re now seeing the Tyson of 2007,” Drummond said. “You’re seeing a mature, focused, committed guy who’s been through a lot of issues and (injuries), one after the other. It can be heartbreaking, but he stayed the course and stayed focus. The end result is what we see right now.”
To say the 17-year-old Cain was pleased to make the team wouldn’t even scratch the surface. She was so elated, she could hardly stand still after the race.
Cain followed the lead of training partner Treniere Moser to earn a spot, with Moser just beating her at the line.
“I really wanted to get a uniform,” Cain said. “I’m so excited.”
And there’s plenty of it on this team, especially in the sprints.
Gardner isn’t exactly a household name, but she’s quickly changing that. The 21-year-old captured the 100 against a field that was missing Carmelita Jeter (quadriceps) and Felix, who sat out to concentrate on the 200. Gardner’s time of 10.85 is one of the fastest in the world this season.
The women’s 100 team also features Central Florida’s Octavious Freeman, Alexandria Anderson and Jeter, who already had an automatic bye courtesy of her win at worlds in 2011.
Rollins, a standout at Clemson before turning pro this month, had quite a breakout performance, too, by turning in one of the top times ever in the hurdles.
“I just came out here and tried to focus on my own lane,” Rollins said.
That was also the approach in the 400 of Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross, who was trying to finish in the top three despite a surgically repaired right big toe that has hampered her training. It didn’t work out as she finished sixth in a final won by Natasha Hastings.
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