DES MOINES, Iowa -- In warm twilight Thursday at Drake Stadium, 16 men advanced from first-round heats into Friday night's semifinals of the 100 meters at the USA Track and Field national championships. A modest gathering of track fans cheered politely. It was the first round, on the first night. Nothing big was expected.
Yet there's something more at work. Sprinters could always make noise. Even amidst the quiet that comes every four years, when neither Olympic nor World Championship team positions are at stake, fast men could always awaken the national championships by the spreading the scent of greatness.
A brief round of history: The United States was once the place to find sprint greatness, through a long run -- occasionally interrupted (
Last in that long line of greats was (was?) Gay, who won both the 100- and 200-meter titles at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, setting the stage for a run at both Olympic titles. Along comes Bolt a year later. (Actually, he didn't come along. He had been around. But in '08 and forward, he famously got a lot better). From May of '08 through August of '09, Bolt took the 100-meter world record down a generation-skipping .16 seconds, from 9.74 seconds to 9.58; and in the 200 meters lowered
Bolt is 23 years old (and now a worldwide celebrity who gobbles Gatorade products in the same commercials at
Start with Gay, who is not running in Iowa because of nagging pain in his right hamstring area that previously caused him to miss the June 12 Adidas Grand Prix in New York City. His career was just blossoming when Bolt ran past him physically and metaphorically, trouncing Gay in a 100-meter race on the night of May 31, 2008 at Icahn Stadium on New York City's Randalls Island. Bolt ran 9.72 seconds to break
However. In fact, Double However. Five weeks after losing to Bolt in New York in 2008, Gay injured his left hamstring in the 200 meters at the Olympic Trials. Last year he ran nearly the entire season with injuries to both groin muscles. And this year, there's the hamstring issue.
"Three years I've had something going on,'' said Gay when I spoke to him this week. "The hamstring was an injury and the groin was an injury. I don't want to call this hamstring an injury. I had an MRI and it showed nothing is wrong. But it hurts. Maybe it's something with my lower back or my sciatic nerve.''