Tyson Gay revved up his pursuit of a first World Championships berth since 2009 with a 100m victory in Eugene, but the US sprinter remains shadowed by his recent doping ban.
Gay, winner of 100m, 200m and 4x100m gold at the 2007 World Championships, clocked the third-fastest 100m in the world this season on Saturday as he triumphed in 9.88sec.
The victory was a morale builder for the man who just two weeks earlier saw his 2012 Olympic 4x100m relay team-mates told to return the silver medals won in London because of his doping case.
Gay served only a one-year ban thanks to his cooperation with investigators — a reduced punishment that has provoked criticism from some, including Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt.
But Gay, who has said he took supplements he believed were clean, said coming back from even an abbreviated suspension hasn’t been easy.
“I was stressed out, I was overweight,” he said. “It was more so about my character, my name. It wasn’t the year off, it was about the fact that people believed I was full of steroids and stuff like that and no one considered it was a mistake.”
Gay says he still has things to “get off his chest,” in that regard.
“I just can’t wait to get a chance to speak so I can clear it up and people can understand what a mistake can do to your life,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s focused on the next step in his bid for a World Championships return — the US trials in Eugene in June.
“I want to make the team man,” Gay, 32, said. “I haven’t competed at World Championships since 2009.
“It’s been a very long time. People don’t realize that because I’ve been around the sport for so long,” added Gay, who missed the 2011 worlds with a hip injury that required surgery, and withdrew from the 2013 championships with his doping case pending.
“To make the team would be a huge blessing for me, because I haven’t even been in that environment for so long.”
He says he’s “still adapting” to working with coach John Smith — a move made necessary after Gay’s cooperation helped anti-doping authorities convict and ban his former coach Jon Drummond.
The close-run win in Eugene strengthened his confidence that the move to Smith is working out.
“I had to dip to win, so I had a great race,” he said.
And Gay need look no further than US team-mate Justin Gatlin to know that there is life after a doping ban.
Gatlin, who was banned for a second time in his career in 2006, serving a four-year suspension, won the 200m in Eugene in a world-leading 19.68 seconds, matching his lifetime best.
– Gift and curse –
Gatlin also owns the fastest 100m time of 2015, a career best 9.74set set at Doha on May 15.
The 33-year-old American is aiming to challenge Bolt in both sprints at the worlds in Beijing in August.
He reacted angrily to the suggestion before the Eugene meeting that he was still benefitting in some way from the testosterone that he tested positive for in 2006, calling the idea “ridiculous.”
But he acknowledged that his enforced four-year absence may have extended his career.
“It’s a gift and a curse,” he said of his punishment, which also erased his then-world record equalling 9.77 100m clocked in 2006.
“I think it gave me a little more shelf-life to come back. It also gave me a little more push and eagerness to come back and prove I’m a great runner.”