Three for the Money
One is the 100-meter world champion. One holds the 100-meter world record. One used to own it.
Tyson Gay. Usain Bolt. Asafa Powell
Their showdown is arguably the most anticipated 100-meter sprint in Olympic history.
"I don't know how he's (Bolt) taking it, but I would assume that there's a lot of pressure," said Gay, reigning world champion and the American record holder. "Regardless of what anyone says, people in his country are expecting him to come out with a gold medal.
"He's been the world record holder. He's been undefeated for a year or so. I think the guy with the fastest time in the world and the record holder could be the favorite, but I don't mind people saying I'm the favorite or the underdog. Any of us could be the favorite right now. It's just about handling the pressure."
Bolt, from Jamaica, doesn't even consider the 100 his best event but in May, he set the world record of 9.72 seconds. Bolt's time was .02 seconds faster than the old record held by countryman Asafa Powell.
"I think anything is possible," Gay said. "After four rounds, you don't really see world records broken too often. But it's definitely a possibility. I think this is one of the hottest 100-meter dashes in history.
"Asafa Powell is looking good right now. Usain Bolt is looking great as well. I've had some good practices. If everything goes well, it could be a real good time."
Gay set the American record of 9.77 seconds in the quarterfinals of this year's U.S. Olympic Trials. Then he ran a wind-aided 9.68 in winning the trials final.
"In order to beat him, I have to run 9.6, most likely," Gay said. "That's kind of what I train my mind to do, to run a 9.6.
"The start will be very crucial, but the person who gets out first is not necessarily going to be the winner in this race. This is the Olympics. There's going to be a lot of pressure."
Gay hasn't raced since the Trials. Six days after recording the fastest 100-meter time in history, albeit wind-aided, Gay pulled up lame in the 200-meter quarterfinals with an injured hamstring. He went to Germany for treatment from Dr. Muller-Wohlfarth, a hamstring specialist who made his mark working with football and soccer stars.
"That is the reason I went there," Gay said. "He has a lot of experience with hamstring injuries. I saw a great massage therapist and did some great rehab. I worked out in an indoor facility. I had access to a weight room. They had everything I needed."
Gay even skipped a meet to ensure he would be fully recovered before making the long trip to Beijing.
"I'd rather be 100 percent coming to the Olympics than racing at 85 percent going to another meet," he said. "I had some chances to see where I'm at in training, and that was my confidence booster."
Gay insists he is completely recovered after four weeks of rehab and light training.
"I'm fully confident. My hamstring is 100 percent now," he said. " I don't feel any aches or any twitching or anything like that. I've been staying hydrated and treating my body very well, so I'm really confident that it's going to hold up."
Gay's success on a track hasn't gone unnoticed. He is recognized on streets from New York to New Zealand. People point at him when he walks through airports.
"When I travel around the world and people see what I stand for when it comes to track and field and how I carry myself off the track, I think it's amazing," Gay said. "I've never had so many people come up to me and want to take my picture or tell me ‘You're going to win.' It's crazy."
When Gay walked into the Opening Ceremony last Friday, he told a U.S. coach he wanted to stand near NBA star "Kobe Bryant so I can get on TV." His coach told him he would get plenty of attention all by himself.
Later, Kobe Bryant even checked on Gay's health.
"I was very surprised," said Gay, as soft-spoken and modest as any elite athlete in the world. "We were in the gym, and I asked him if I could take a picture with him so I could have it for memories. He said, ‘How's your leg? I'm going to check you out. I'll keep you in my heart.‘
"He said he was going to come and check out the track meet. That was crazy. I texted my mother and told her. It was just amazing. This is the best experience I've ever had in my life."
Tommy Hine is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This feature was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.