That’s the word from Tyson in an interview with ESPN. In the interview Gay states that he’s had a few nagging injuries that have slowed his preparation for the Olympic season. He said that the injury that forced him to have surgery last year is fully healed, but some muscle strains and inflammation have twice halted his training. As a result he’s taking it slow and won’t have the time he feels he needs to prepare for both the 100 & 200.
That’s the news, so what are the implications. After all, Tyson Gay is arguably the best sprinter in the US when healthy. His resume includes the AR in the 100 (9.69) which is second all time – only Bolt’s 9.58 is faster. He won double gold in Osaka in ‘07 and lead the US to it’s last major victory in the 4×1 – against a Bolt/Powell squad. He opened his 200 season in ‘09 with a sizzling 19.58 – #5 performer ever with the #9 performance. And he’s the last person on the planet to beat Bolt at either distance – defeating him in the 100 in Stockholm in 2010 and taking his ‘07 200 gold over Bolt in Osaka.
But it’s that last fact – the 200 win over Bolt in Osaka – that really points to the implications of this news. Because that Osaka race was the last time we’ve seen Tyson Gay in the final of a major 200. As a matter of fact, ‘07 was the last time we saw Tyson Gay in the final of a national 200! Why? Well anyone following the sprints will remember that the following year at the Olympic Trials is where Tyson’s injury woes began as he went down to injury After setting a then AR 9.77 in his quarterfinal, then burning a 9.68w in the final, Gay went down to the track in his 200 quarterfinal with a hamstring injury that, in retrospect, was much bigger in scope than anyone would ever have imagined. An injury that has had profound effects on US sprinting for nearly four years now.
Tyson was unable to recover in time to be at full strength in Beijing and bowed out of the 100 in his semi. As the defending World champion in both sprints, Tyson didn’t have to compete at US Nationals in ‘09, but nagging injuries forced him to withdraw from the Berlin 200 after taking silver in the 100 (9.71) behind Bolt – after opening the season at 19.58. Following Worlds Tyson screamed his 9.69 AR in Shanghai. Nothing at stake in the off season of 2010, Tyson was undefeated in the 100 and took down Bolt in Stockholm. He showed incredible strength with a 44.89 early season 400, and a pair of 19.7 runs in the 200 during the season. Then he was fast early with a 9.79 last year, only to succumb once again to injury, this time undergoing surgery to repair his groin.
So where does that leave Tyson, and the US, as we move towards the heart of the season and preparations for London? For Tyson it puts his eggs in one basket – the 100 meter basket. But then, that’s really where his eggs have been for the past four years. As outlined above, his recent appearances in the deuce have been few and sporadic – a total of 10 races since 2007! Most have been of high quality including a 19.41 on a straight and his PR 19.58 opener, but he’s averaged less than 3 races at the distance per year.
He’s obviously a talent there, as well he should be with a sprinting range of 9.69/19.58/44.89. Arguably he’s yet to truly tap into his 200 potential. When you combine his 400 strength with the fact that he may be the best turn runner in the world – the only man capable of leading Bolt off the turn – the deuce just might be his best event. But the bright lights of the 100 meters calls strongly to sprinters – look no further than Bolt himself who was a 200 man who begged his coach to let him run the 100. There’s a draw to being called the World’s Fastest Man, and clearly that’s where Tyson’s focus has been. So, while he was double World Champion in 2007, for all intents and purposes he has been a 100 meter man since.
However the stress of running the 100 takes a toll on one’s body. Again look no further than Bolt, who has had his share of sprint related injuries since turning to the event. Or former World Record holder Asafa Powell who has had some sort of injury annually since 2005. And injuries finally ended the careers of Maurice Greene, Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin, and Ato Boldon, – stars of the previous era of sprinting. Even double WR holder Michael Johnson was injury prone trying to run the 100 before moving up to the longer double. The 100 is glorious, but at a price!
It may even be that the stress of the 100 is what has lead to Tyson’s injuries. After all, Tyson’s 100 is not the fluid relaxed movements of the much taller Bolt, but more the all out piston drive of a Porshe engine in overdrive, or a dragster going from 0 to 60. A pedal to the metal drive that occasionally hurts a rod or two. So it will be wise for Tyson to “take it slow” as he prepares for this Olympic season. He will need good health to take on what just may be the greatest Olympic 100 final in history.
As for the US, a healthy Tyson Gay, who is focused on a single goal means a strong shot at the top of the podium in the 100, and the most potent third leg in the world in the 4×1. Or as Ato Boldon once put it calling the 4×1 in Zurich as Gay blasted by the competition, “that’s gonna leave a mark”! We need THAT kind of leg from Tyson if we are to beat the Jamaican’s in London. So a healthy Tyson will give us leadership in the short sprint and added relay strength.
It will also open up the deuce – but then the deuce has been open for years anyway. Luckily we have solid sprinters in Dix and Spearmon to carry that mantle. And with Spearmon running very well early this year, the loss of Tyson could become a moot point here. After all, Spearmon was The Man in the deuce prior to his own round of injuries – regularly defeating Tyson and Bolt! And he could be ready for his own renaissance. Time will tell.
Of course speculation is rife this time of year and there is much news left to be heard. We still haven’t seen Usain Bolt or any of several top sprinters yet this year. And it was only weeks ago that there was speculation that Bolt may be having his own health issues. Nothing is yet written in stone, and until we see anyone on the track performing, everything is up for grabs. After all, it ain’t over til the fat lady sings or the sprinters cross the line!
At least we now know what we can expect from Tyson Gay. He’s going to be focused on the 100 – and frankly I think he has much potential there yet to be tapped. After all, his 9.69 was a come from behind affair that left much room for improvement. And who knows, Tyson may not be the only sprinter that decides to focus on a single event. The sprints are deeper than ever at the top end and winning a double will be difficult. To double unsuccessfully or to focus on a single gold? We’ll see how those decisions pan out as the season progresses.