Olympic Sports

Sept. 03, 2007
Sept. 03, 2007

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Sept. 3, 2007

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Olympic Sports

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By surging past Asafa Powell in their showdown at the worlds, Tyson Gay became the Olympic favorite in the 100

This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2007 issue

ON SUNDAY afternoon, several hours before the 100-meter final at the world track and field champion-ships in Osaka, Japan, Tyson Gay prayed with his mother, Daisy Lowe, to help him overcome his nerves. Later, while warming up for the race with former Olympic sprinter Jon Drummond, who helps coach him, Gay questioned his talent, worthiness and preparation for what lay ahead.

"This is normal," Drummond told Gay. "You're nervous on the big stage. If you weren't questioning yourself, I'd be worried about you."

In the 100 final Gay would face world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica, and the winner would become the favorite to win gold at the 2008 Olympics next August in Beijing. Gay is supremely fast but has needed help with his start. Powell would surely be in front early in the race. "I told him, 'If Asafa has [only] a step on you at 60 meters, you're winning this race,'" says Drummond. "Run past him and then throw your hands in the air at the finish."

Drummond turned out to be right. Powell led early but stiffened, as he did in the 2004 Olympic final. "That's the way Asafa runs," says three-time world champion and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Maurice Greene. "When Asafa is by himself, he can run fast all day. But not when somebody is next to him, running fast. His technique breaks down."

Gay blew past at 70 meters, and while he did not throw his hands in the air, he yelled in exultation at the finish. "Just screaming for joy," he said. Despite a 0.5-meters-per-second headwind, Gay had a time of 9.85 seconds, just .01 off his personal best.

It was only the beginning for the 25-year-old Gay, both in Osaka and for the months to follow. At the worlds Gay was now in position to become the first man to win three gold medals in one championships since Greene did it in 1999. Gay was a solid favorite in the 200 on Aug. 30 and would run on the U.S. 4√ó100-meter relay on Sept. 1.

At the U.S. nationals in June, Gay won the 200 in 19.62 seconds into the wind, the second-fastest time in history behind Michael Johnson's epic 19.32 at the '96 Olympics. "He's going to go crazy in the 200," says Greene. "Nobody is going to reach Michael's time in the next 10 years, at least, but I expect Tyson to run faster than he ever has in his life. The 200 is a little more relaxed race." It is also the race in which Gay finished a disappointing fourth at the '05 world championships in Helsinki, behind a U.S. sweep. "I got left out," he said earlier this summer. "I think I just wasn't ready to handle the pressure at that time."

The U.S. 4√ó100 relay team is not exceptionally strong after Gay and former Arkansas teammate Wallace Spearmon but should be strong enough, with efficient baton passing, to contend for the title. Three golds would leave Gay at the vortex of U.S. Olympic scrutiny for nearly a year, somewhere south of Michael Phelps, but north of nearly everyone else.

Kidd Takes Charge
When the national team arrived in Las Vegas in July for minicamp, USA basketball director Jerry Colangelo assembled the players and spoke to them about rebounding from last year's embarrassing third-place finish at the world championships in Japan. Colangelo urged them to focus on winning the FIBA Americas Championship to earn a berth in the 2008 Olympics, and then he put the spotlight on point guard Jason Kidd, the only gold medalist on the team. "I said, 'Take a look at him,'" says Colangelo. "'He has never lost in international competition. And he has what you want.'" When Colangelo finished, Kidd, who won gold at the 2000 Games in Sydney, turned to LeBron James and said, "I didn't come here to lose."

The U.S. didn't come close to defeat last week in its first four games of the preliminary round, flattening the competition by an average of 48.5 points and running Kidd's record in international play to 32--0. While Kidd's numbers were far from dazzling (he averaged 1.8 points and 4.5 assists in the first round), the U.S. players' fluid ball movement and willingness to defer to teammates showed that they'd molded themselves in their point guard's image. "We really are an unselfish team," says coach Mike Krzyzewski. "And Jason Kidd is the ultimate unselfish player."

Kidd's superior court vision has benefited many of his teammates, particularly Carmelo Anthony, the U.S.'s leading scorer in the tournament with 21.3 points per game. Against Canada, Kidd feathered a 70-foot pass over the head of three Canadian defenders that hit Anthony in stride a few feet from the rim. "This guy is a dream come true," says Anthony. "All you have to do is run the floor, and he is going to find you."

Though injuries have kept Kidd out of international play in recent years, Team USA has never been far from his mind. "I watched them play in the [2004] Olympics," says Kidd of the squad that won a bronze medal. "And I never saw that sense of urgency in their faces." Last winter Kidd placed a call to Colangelo and told him he was ready to rejoin the team. Says Colangelo, "For a guy like Jason, whose body has been through so much and who has accomplished what he has, to put himself out there like that was remarkable."

While in 2000 Kidd was comfortable leaving the leadership to veterans Steve Smith and Gary Payton ("I let Gary do all the talking," says Kidd) this year he has taken on a vocal role. "I'm talking to the guys a lot on the bench," Kidd says. "I feel like it's my place to say something if I think it will help us win, because I don't believe in losing."

Kings of the Ring

Last weekend in Houston, 11 boxers, including seven teenagers and an Iraqi war vet, secured berths to represent the U.S. at the World Boxing Championships in Chicago in September and, should they qualify internationally, at the Olympic Games in Beijing next summer.

ONLY AT SI.COM More from Tim Layden at the worlds.

ONLY AT SI.COM More on USA Basketball from Chris Mannix.

View this article in the original magazine

," says Kara. "Adam and I have taken a different perspective on life.... Even though we've been training really hard, it's just running."PHOTOBOB MARTIN (GAY)FAST COMPANY Gay hoped to be the fourth man to win three golds at one worlds.PHOTOBILL FRAKES (GOUCHER)PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (KIDD)VISIONARY Kidd's superb passing has helped fuel an explosive U.S. offense.PHOTOROBERT SEALE (WARREN)TEN PHOTOSCOURTESY OF USA BOXING