Gay takes express lane in 9.68 seconds

Special to The Times

EUGENE, Ore. -- There has been little doubt for a long while now that Tyson Gay can run like the wind.

With the wind along for the ride, Gay ran like no other human being Sunday.

And if that performance must go into the history books with more asterisks and other cryptic symbols than the Da Vinci Code, it still doesn’t diminish the most significant thing Gay did the last two days at the U.S. Olympic trials:


Get on the 2008 Olympic team by surviving four rounds and then winning the 100-meter final in a wind-aided time of 9.68 seconds, faster than anyone has covered the distance.

And if you thought winning was a foregone conclusion for reigning world champion Gay, easily the fastest sprinter in the nation the last two seasons, you didn’t see what happened in Saturday’s first round, when he eased up too soon and had to scramble back into high gear to ensure advancing to the quarterfinals.

“I almost started crying when I crossed the finish line because I thought I didn’t make it,” Gay said.

He would make his first Olympics with a U.S. record run -- 9.77 seconds -- in the quarterfinals and an impressive dominance of the semifinal and the final, when he left Walter Dix (9.80) and Darvis Patton (9.84) far behind as they earned the other two 100-meter spots for Beijing.

“Everything here was about winning and beating people, nothing to do with times,” said Jon Drummond, Gay’s coach. “This year is about that Olympic gold medal.”

So Drummond wanted Gay to apply the brakes -- not cut the motor -- in the first two rounds.

“Hindsight, I would have said, ‘Run through the finish line [in the quarterfinals], we get the world record,’ ” Drummond said. “He didn’t, we still got the American record.”

Gay did not break the world record (9.72) Sunday because the tailwind, 9.1 mph, was well above the allowable 4.4 for record purposes. A chart used to determine the impact of tailwinds translates Gay’s 9.68 to a 9.86 under calm conditions and 9.78 with a wind at the allowable maximum.

In 1996, Obadele Thompson of Barbados ran 9.69 with an 11-mph tailwind.

“Regardless of what the wind was, it was a very historic moment,” Olympic sprint coach Harvey Glance said of Gay’s run.

“It means a lot,” Gay said. “I’m pretty sure people are going to start stepping down into that (9.6) area, but I’m glad my body went that fast, because I believe with a [legal] wind I can do it.”

Runner-up Dix proved something as well, defying critics who said he should have turned pro a year ago, when he made the 2007 world team by finishing second at nationals.

“I went with my heart, and it turns out my heart was correct,” Dix said.

Dix, 22, passed up worlds, returned to Florida State for his senior year, got a degree in social science and ran here in a Seminoles’ uniform because he has yet to cut a deal with a shoe company. That impressed Gay, who gave Dix a big hug after the race.

“Basically, he was proving a point,” Gay said. “He didn’t just take the first thing thrown to him. Whoever gave him advice to stay in a collegiate uniform proved you could run with professional athletes and do a great job.”

The task of making the team proved too much for 2004 gold medalists Tim Mack (pole vault) and Dwight Phillips (long jump), but vaulter Jeff Hartwig showed both Mack, 35, and Phillips, 30, there is no reason to stop trying.

Hartwig made the Olympic team in 1996, then failed to clear a height in the qualifying round for both 2000 and 2004, when he was the U.S. record-holder in the event.

Sunday, at 40, he became the oldest vaulter on a U.S. Olympic team by finishing second to Derek Miles. Brad Walker, who broke Hartwig’s U.S. record earlier this season, was third.

“Had I made those teams, who knows whether I would be here now,” Hartwig said. “This one doesn’t make up for those other years, those other teams, but at the same time, I feel very fortunate.”

Hurdler Queen Harrison had to feel the same way. She finished second despite having to leap 11 hurdles in a 10-hurdle race -- the extra one coming when Latosha Wallace, in the next lane, stumbled and fell in front of Harrison, who stepped over Wallace and then cleared the next official hurdle in the 400-meter race.

Angelo Taylor, who made the men’s team by finishing third in the 400 hurdles, gave himself an extra challenge by also trying to make it in the open 400, which put him in a first-round heat 23 minutes after the hurdles final ended. He gave up after 230 meters.

“I thought I would have 45 minutes between races,” said Taylor, the 2000 Olympic hurdles champion.

That time really counted.


Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.



Up next

A look at today’s main events at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials:

* Decathlon, final five events -- They start with the 110-meter hurdles at 11:30 then throw the discus, pole vault, throw the javelin and try to survive the 1,500, at 8:35 p.m. A full day. Bryan Clay of Glendora has a narrow lead.

* Women’s 400-meter semifinal -- Sanya Richards, advised to avoid stress after doctors determined she had a rare autoimmune disease, minimized her stress in running a 51.08 to win her first-round race.

* Women’s 800-meter final -- Alice Schmidt is the favorite, with veteran Hazel Clark trying for her third Olympic team.

* Men’s 800-meter final -- Lopez Lomong, a Sudanese refugee, is a great story and a great runner.

* Women’s 5,000-meter semifinal -- Shalane Flanagan, winner of the 10,000, will try for the distance double here. So will second-place finisher Kara Goucher and third-place finisher Amy Begley.

* Men’s 5,000-meter final -- Bernard Lagat begins his pursuit of the rare 1,500-5,000 double.

Helene Elliott