Commentary

Hours after failing to reach final, Gay in awe of Bolt's 100 win

Updated: August 18, 2008, 8:55 AM ET
By Luke Cyphers | ESPN The Magazine

BEIJING -- Tyson Gay was in pain after failing to qualify for the Olympic 100-meter final Saturday night.

Then, he saw Usain Bolt's world record of 9.69 seconds and was in awe.

Gay, who entered the year as the favorite for the 100 and 200 here, couldn't round into form in time for the Games after suffering a hamstring injury during the 200 heats at the Olympic trials.

[+] EnlargeTyson Gay
Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty ImagesTyson Gay failed to qualify for the men's 100 final after finishing fifth in his semis heat.

He finished fifth in his semifinal and could only watch as Bolt ran for the gold medal in the National Stadium. "It was amazing," Gay said during an interview at the Omega pavilion near the stadium.

But he didn't immediately appreciate the enormity of Bolt's performance.

"When I first watched it," he said, "I was like, 'Wow, 9.69.' But I was thinking to myself, 'Well, he's run 9.72, so, yeah, he should run that.' In this stadium, this fast track -- 'OK, cool.'"

Then the replay came up.

"That's when I was in awe," said Gay, whose 9.68 time at the Olympic trials in June is the fastest wind-aided performance ever. "I don't want to say he shut it down, but man, he celebrated early."

Bolt's effort, which came with no helping wind, finished as he dropped his arms 15 meters from the end, looked around, beat his chest and turned sideways at the line. Gay said that might not have slowed Bolt down as much as everyone thinks.

"It's been explained to me that when you're running and you're relaxed, your stride starts to lengthen a little bit more, and your legs turn over faster, and you can maintain your speed longer," Gay said. "You could look at it and say, 'If he'd tried to run through the line, he might have tightened up.' But since he didn't, he kept right on flowing."

Still, Gay said, "No telling what he could do if he ran start to finish." And there's no telling how fast Bolt can run in the 200 as qualifying begins Monday.

"The guy's on fire right now," Gay said. "I did some calculations last night and figured out that if he can run 9.8 on the curve, the second hundred is always faster, so he can easily run 19.1. Easily. Or 19.3. Easy. Just calculate it off what he did in the 100."

Michael Johnson's world record in the 200 is 19.32, and Bolt's best is 19.67. Gay warns, though, that the 200 is a different race and that the American squad "won't lay down. He'll have more pressure coming off that curve.

"Walter Dix can run the curve, Shawn Crawford can definitely run the curve, so it won't be easy. We'll see how good Usain is now."

As for Gay, he said he'll figure out his schedule for the remainder of the year and try to recover from the disappointment of the Games. After his semifinal loss, he told the media it probably wouldn't sink in until he reached the athlete's village. He was wrong. He got as far as the door near the media space when he was met by his coach, Jon Drummond.

"He put his arm around [me] and said, 'I watched the race, and I know you gave it your best. I saw it in your eyes on the tape, and I know you gave it your all,'" Gay recalled. "When he said that, it broke me up crying. If you lose and you gave it your best, it hurts a lot more than if you quit. That really hurt, so I really started crying."

Gay said he was having good practices leading up to the Games but wasn't race-sharp, and his form broke down in the semis. "I was making some technical mistakes," he said, "just racing like a little kid."

But he vows to regain the form that propelled him to his 9.68 time, as well as the American record of 9.77 he set at the trials before the injury. Bolt has forced him to readjust his goals, though. Before the Games, Gay believed he'd have to run a 9.6 to beat him.

Now?

"Nine-five," Gay said.

Luke Cyphers is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.