Last year it was Justin Gatlin beating Tyson Gay to the tape at nationals, and then again in London, when Gatlin finished third to Gay’s close fourth.
But on Friday night those roles were reversed in Des Moines, as Gay burned down the track in 9.75 seconds to beat his own 2013 worlds best and clock the tenth fastest time in 100m history.
“That went good,” Gay told reporters, smiling wide. “I was a little bit sluggish in the second round. I think the heat got to me a little bit. But I tried to put it together in the finals… it still worked out okay.”
Gay actually ran 9.75 in the semis as well, but that time was officially wind-aided. Still, the 2007 world champ was impressed by his performance, surging to catch Gatlin from behind after getting a bad jump out of the starting blocks.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I feel a lot stronger. My finish is a lot stronger. I have a good base under my belt. My coach says don’t run fast in the semis, you can come back in the finals, so I felt confidence in him saying that. That gave me a little confidence going into the finals even though I was a little tired.”
Meanwhile, Gatlin clocked a dangerously fast 9.89 Friday, 0.05 faster than when he beat Bolt in Rome only a few weeks ago, despite the fact that Gatlin was dealing with a mild hamstring strain in Iowa. Charles Silmon, a 21-year-old world junior silver medalist from TCU finished third in 9.98.
All three are likely threats for the finals in Moscow, where they’ll face world record holder Usain Bolt, who took the Jamaican 100m title in a breezy 9.94 mere minutes after Gay won in Des Moines, and against defending world champ Yohan Blake, who sat out nationals to rest a hamstring injury.
“I know it’s going to sound really patriotic, but it’s not about one person,” Gatlin said. “It’s about a team collectively. That’s what [the Jamaicans] have done these past few years, they’ve worked as a team.”