Medal quest drives Gay

Sprinter yearns for Olympic moment

- Rachel Axon @RachelAxon USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Gay crouches his body, knee on the ground, as he loads his feet into the blocks. He explodes forward, his black pants flapping briskly in the breeze generated by his short burst down the track. John Smith, the sprinter’s coach, says he has his snap back as he trains under the Southern California sun at UCLA just days before the U.S. Olympic trials.

At 33, Gay has maintained his form and speed after training with Smith for the last 15 months. But with hopes of going to Rio de Janeiro for one final shot at an Olympic medal, Gay faces a tougher challenge in changing how people perceive his character after a year-long suspension for doping.

“I just really feel like I don’t want to quit the sport until I reach my full potential, until I’m satisfied with leaving the sport,” said Gay, the American recordhold­er in the 100 meters. “I

love it, at the end of the day, and even though the sport has really had a dark cloud over the sport for a while — and I’m also a part of that cloud — I want to give back the best way I can.”

To be sure, Gay’s role has not gone unnoticed, with everyone from his fellow Americans to Russian Olympic officials expressing disappoint­ment about his potential to go to the Olympics after his ban. But as he marches toward the end of his career, Gay hopes to provide better context for what led him to make such a mistake.

LOW POINT IN CAREER Gay was training in Amsterdam in advance of the 2013 world championsh­ips when a U.S. AntiDoping Agency representa­tive called to tell him he had tested positive for an anabolic steroid in the U.S. outdoor championsh­ips.

“Absolutely shocked,” Gay said. “I was just thinking my life was over with, completely over. I called my mother, and she cried immediatel­y when I told her the news. Couldn’t believe it.”

Gay immediatel­y told his coach and teammates, pulled out of the world championsh­ips and agreed to assist USADA in the investigat­ion.

According to USADA arbitratio­n, Jon Drummond, Gay’s coach at the time, connected him with chiropract­or Clayton Gibson after Gay struggled to run without pain. The three met in Atlanta, and Gibson brought supplement­s and creams, the latter of which they decided Gay would not take.

The ingredient­s listed on the label contained prohibited substances, but the packaging also said it was 100% natural, Gay said.

Drummond took off the labels when he brought them to Europe for Gay to use in July 2012, and Gay testified Drummond said they would not harm him.

“I put my trust in someone saying everything is 100% natural, then that’s what I believe,” Gay said. “It was tough, but it was definitely a learning experience.”

Despite that, Gay accepted responsibi­lity for the violation. His suspension was reduced from two years to one for assisting USADA. He forfeited prize money, and he and his teammates were stripped of the Olympic silver he helped win in the 4x100 in London.

Drummond received an eight- year ban.

During his time away, Gay spent time with his family and sought counseling. Sponsor Adidas dropped him, necessitat­ing a coaching change since Lance Brauman, his longtime coach in college and as a pro, is affiliated with the company.

Gay wears a Nike kit now and sought out Smith, whom he has known for years. For his part, Smith — who has coached Maurice Greene and currently coaches three-time Olympic medalist Carmelita Jeter — had no hesitation about bringing Gay into the training group.

“He took full responsibi­lity,” Smith said. “He didn’t say, ‘ Oh, I didn’t do this. I didn’t do that.’ He said, ‘My bad. It’s on me.’ And that you have to admire.”

PLENTY OF DETRACTORS Gay returned to competitio­n in July 2014, finishing second to Justin Gatlin — who has served two doping bans — in his first race before winning his second. He reached the 100-meter final in last year’s world championsh­ips.

Heading into the Olympic trials, Gay is tied for the 14th-fastest time in the 100 this year at 9.97 seconds, with four Americans posting times faster or tied with that time.

While Gay said he has remained focused on the positive, he has been publicly questioned by Usain Bolt, American teammate Alysia Montaño and Russian Olympic officials.

Bolt, the world recordhold­er in the 100 and 200 meters and a sixtime Olympic gold medalist, said last year that Gay should be banned for life. Montaño, who finished fifth in the 800 in London behind two Russian medalists later found to have doped, said this spring that athletes who fail drug tests should be barred from selection.

And Russia, whose track and field athletes were barred from Rio after the Internatio­nal Associatio­n of Athletics Federation­s determined the country had not done enough to clean up statespons­ored doping in the sport, questioned why its clean athletes should be banned when athletes such as Gatlin and Gay are allowed to compete in Rio.

For his part, Gay says he doesn’t let the criticism affect him. The rules have allowed for his return, he says, and he’s being drug tested regularly like all other U.S. track and field athletes. He hopes others will understand his case in shades of gray and not in black and white.

It’s important to Gay for people to see his character now. He made a mistake in trusting the advice of others, but he has accepted responsibi­lity for what he put in his body and the resulting suspension. That’s what he wants people to see.

“I’ve never looked for something negative to bounce back from,” Gay said. “If I could have ended my career with no bumps and bruises, I would have loved it. A lot of people don’t understand that I’m not someone who wants to take the money or take the moment from another individual athlete. I don’t do that.”

Save for the occasional Twitter comment, Gay says he has received support since his return. If there are boos when he’s competing, he cannot hear them over the cheers.

Immediatel­y after he tested positive, his daughter, Trinity, who is now 15, asked, “Hey Daddy, can you come to my meet since you can’t go to yours?”

She was competing in the AAU Junior Olympic Games that year, and although Gay says he was ashamed by the failed test, he decided to go and surprise her. Rather than shun him, fans asked for photos. Gay handed out medals, and the race organizer asked him to speak to the crowd.

“That was like a wake-up call to me,” he said. “So even though it was bad, at the same time it was good to see how much support I had.”

FINAL CHANCE Gay doesn’t use the word “retirement,” but this is his last shot at the Olympics.

He failed to make the 100-meter final in Beijing after suffering a hamstring injury. In a field loaded with talent in London, he finished fourth (a result that has been disqualifi­ed under the ban). The race had five of the fastest men of all time — including Gay, whose 9.69 remains the American record — four of whom have served bans for doping.

Despite Gay’s age, Smith is confident. A hungry man will fight, he says, and Gay is hungry.

“It was fantastic for me, because they don’t make a lot of people like him,” Smith said. “I’m a keeper of his talent. I didn’t develop it. Now I just need to make sure that I can keep it sharp.”

Gay is putting faith in Smith’s training, which required adjustment­s. The coach wants to put stress on the body and make athletes work through it, Gay said, so they lift weights before running each day and then back off 10 days before a competitio­n.

Tuesday, his legs weren’t fully recovered. But he hopes to get there by the start of competitio­n Saturday. He needs to finish in the top three to qualify for Rio in individual events.

Gay has to make the team first, Smith points out, but the sprinter is focused on winning an Olympic medal. Getting on the team would be a step toward that, clearly, and, Gay hopes, a step past his ban.

“Where I sit now, the suspension is something that will never go away. It’s something that I really regret,” Gay said.

“I would be lying if I told you I still didn’t think about it, but at the same time I’m looking forward to Rio and putting that behind me.”

 ?? ROBERT HANASHIRO, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? A positive test for a performanc­e-enhancing drug cost Tyson Gay his only Olympic medal.
ROBERT HANASHIRO, USA TODAY SPORTS A positive test for a performanc­e-enhancing drug cost Tyson Gay his only Olympic medal.
 ?? ROBERT HANASHIRO, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? “I’m looking forward to Rio and putting that behind me,” Tyson Gay says of a doping violation that led to a suspension.
ROBERT HANASHIRO, USA TODAY SPORTS “I’m looking forward to Rio and putting that behind me,” Tyson Gay says of a doping violation that led to a suspension.

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