EUGENE, Ore. (AP) – Tyson Gay has a new coach and a longer beard to go with a new attitude: He doesn’t really care what people think about him.
Behind that tough exterior, though, masks the pain of having to hand back his only Olympic medal. A doping violation cost him and all his relay teammates the silver medal from the 2012 London Games.
A career full of missed chances, close calls, untimely injuries and that stripped-away medal is nearing its end. The man who used to be considered the biggest threat to Usain Bolt is now often viewed as a bit player in the sprint game. Fine with him, the American 100-meter record holder insists. He’s making one last run at the Olympics, doing it for himself, his family, his fans and nobody else.
“This could restore things for me in my heart,” Gay said on the eve of the preliminaries of 100 meters at the Olympic trials. “I lost something when I gave that medal back. The people closest to me, they know how bad I want that medal. Anyone on the outside? I don’t really care.”
For the first time in quite a while, the 33-year-old Gay has no aches or pains. Well, maybe a little knee soreness, but that’s about it, as he tries to earn an Olympic spot in the 100 and 200. Since becoming the American record holder in 2009, Gay’s body has betrayed him. He’s gone through groin and hip surgeries over the years to keep him on the track.
He fully believes he can keep up with the likes of Justin Gatlin, who is a few months older than him, and Trayvon Bromell, the up-and-comer in the field.
“I’m considered the old one,” Gay said. “I’m going to go out there and give it my best, let it all hang.”
He’s accepted that his past doping problem will now be part of the permanent record. Gay received a one-year ban in 2013 for testing positive for a steroid precursor DHEA – a penalty that was reduced because he provided information that led to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s case against his former coach, Jon Drummond.
“The key thing to that is putting the past in the past and showing people you can always persevere, especially when you make mistakes in life,” said Gay, who is the second-fastest man in history, thanks to his 9.69-second 100 at a 2009 meet in Shanghai (Bolt’s world record is 9.58 and Yohan Blake tied Gay’s mark in 2012). “I don’t get a lot of hate mail, or any of that type of thing. (Fans) allow me to forget about it for the most part.”
Bolt called him out, though, intimating Gay should’ve been suspended for life. Although Gatlin has a doping past as well, Bolt has been harsher toward Gay, possibly because he was Bolt’s biggest rival for so many years.
Doesn’t bother Gay.
“USADA did their investigation and understood everything wasn’t intentional,” Gay said. “But (Bolt) is entitled to his own opinion. I’m moving forward, man. Just continue to do what I do, not worry about what no one else says.”
He’s reached out to Drummond, with the two sharing a text over a family matter. Drummond, the former track star and longtime coach, got hit with an eight-year doping ban after arbitrators found a series of discussions concluded with Drummond convincing Gay to take the banned substance, and carrying it to Europe for him.
“People are in situations and do certain things,” said Gay, who has a son who is almost 2 and a teenage daughter. “At the end of the day, I can’t sit here and hold a grudge and beat myself up. That’s all I would do, if I didn’t let go.”
These days, Gay is working with longtime coach John Smith, who partnered with him about a year and a half ago. The two are smoothing out his starts, which have sometimes stood in Gay’s way. They’ve recently discovered something, Smith said.
“On Tuesday, his first start at practice and I’m like, ‘Where did that come from?'” Smith recounted. “He got better and better and better. He’s a gamer. He knows how to go for it. That’s what I love about him.
“He’s older. He’s injury-free. He’s been scarred up for the last four years, coupled with all the other publicity he had that I don’t have to expound on. This is motivational for him, to go out and prove to himself and to the rest of the public … he’s still here.”
Indeed, Gay still is.
“It’s been a rough three years,” Gay said. “But I would say I’m almost at peace. After I make this team, then I’ll be all the way there.”