U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay is hoping to prove a point at the 2012 London Olympics
The 2007 triple world champion missed the Beijing 100 meter final after struggling with injury
He is hoping to prevent Jamaica's world record-holder Usain Bolt defending his three titles
Gay says he wants to be remembered as a clean runner, "someone who ran with his heart"
There’s a fine line between success and failure in top-level sports, perhaps nowhere more so than in track and field sprint events.
Tyson Gay knows how true that is.
The American was a triple world champion in 2007, but since then has seen Usain Bolt usurp him in the most spectacular way with records and titles galore.
However, the difference between them is still only a few hundredths of a second.
“It’s a huge difference – not on paper, but in the race it is. In a race, a loss is a loss and you can see it clearly. So that’s why I want to get what’s on paper a lot closer,” Gay told CNN’s Aiming for Gold show.
His quickest time over the 100 meters is 9.69 seconds, set in China in 2009. That matched Bolt’s effort in winning Olympic gold in Beijing the previous year.
When they went head to head at the 2009 world championships, Gay clocked 9.71 – good enough for second place only as the Jamaican took his title with a new record 9.58.
“If I do my best and I don’t win then I have to be satisfied with that,” the 29-year-old Kentucky native said.
“So when I ran 9.71, I was mad I didn’t run 9.69, but it was so close that it was almost like I couldn’t be mad because I knew that we worked to do what we tried to do, and I just took the loss.”
Gay has only beaten Bolt once in a 100m final, in 2010, and also had the edge in the 200m final at the 2007 worlds.
But a hamstring injury suffered in the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials sent his performances into a spiral, and he did not qualify for the 100m final in Beijing.
“It was like coming off a high and going to the lowest point of my life in a span of 12 months,” he said.
“Being a champion I wanted to follow up with an Olympic medal, and after going through the trials and having the American record in the 100m dash I was feeling good, and then I pulled my hamstring in the 200m and that’s when things just changed.
“I was down trying to rehab it, trying to go through a lot of things, ups and downs, struggles mentally trying to get my mind together.
“It was very tough. I believe when you run track and field, you’re on that thin line between running too fast in practice, running too fast in meets, not having enough time to recover and so forth – and that’s just something I had to learn to deal with over the years.”
Gay insists he is in much better shape to finally achieve his dream at this year’s Olympics in London.
“I really believe that I’m going to be healthy this year and that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he said.
“Last year for me to run with basically one leg, I ran 9.7. I can be a lot more dangerous, as long as I stay healthy and get a lot stronger in the weight room.”
The Jamaican sprint team was hit by a doping scandal ahead of the 2009 world championships which saw five members – not including Bolt – under scrutiny, and last year their compatriot Steve Mullings was handed a lifetime ban after testing positive for a masking agent.
Gay’s fellow American, former world and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, is on the comeback trail after serving a four-year ban for steroid use.
With that context, London 2012 organizers have said that this Games will be heavily scrutinized to make sure illegal doping does not occur.
“That’s one thing I respect about having the Games here in London, they don’t play no games and they were big on the anti-doping thing,” Gay said.
“There’s a possibility that they’re a little bit less forgiving than America is when it comes to that and I really respect them for that.”
Gay is only too aware that he is a role model for aspiring athletes – including his daughter Trinity.
“She is not a little girl anymore and she is at the age when she understands what I’m doing, so now I’m at a point where I want to be involved in more of her sports,” he said.
“Last year was one of the first times going to one of her track meets and it was pretty amazing to watch her run and compete and still keep her spirits up high you when she didn’t win.
“In that sense I am trying to balance my time so I can watch her career and I can finish up my career.”
With that in mind, Gay is aware that London may provide his best chance to achieve his Olympic goals and leave a golden legacy.
“I really believe this is going to be one of the most exciting Olympics ever in history, and I like a challenge. I want to run with the best, run against the best; that’s how I’ve always lived,” said Gay, who has strong ideas of how he’d like to be recalled in the history books.
“As a great runner, as a clean runner, someone who accomplished things without going the other route. Being remembered as someone who gave his all, who ran with his heart. I want to capitalize that with a medal in the Olympics – a gold medal.”