DES MOINES, Iowa — So sore for so long, Tyson Gay is sometimes leery of digging deep and testing out that surgically repaired hip.
In a race between a fellow thirty-something, he really had no choice.
Down early against Justin Gatlin after a slow start, Gay had ground to make up. So, he cranked it up a level.
The hip responded just fine. And with it any doubts about Gay’s health instantly vanished as he roared back to beat Gatlin to capture the 100 meters on Friday night at the U.S. championships.
Gay finished in a time of 9.75 seconds, the fastest in the world this season. Gatlin, wearing a support bandage on his tweaked right hamstring, wound up in second. Charles Silmon took third as he held off Michael Rodgers by two-thousandths of a second for the last spot on the team headed to Moscow for the world championships in August.
“That,” Gay said, his grin growing wider, “went good.”
Even better, he was walking around without a grimace of pain after each step following the race, something that hasn’t been the case in recent years. He’s been dealing with nagging groin and hamstring issues, along with that troublesome hip.
Finally, the 30-year-old is healthy. Finally, he’s training without discomfort trailing him around the track.
“Tyson can be great if he’s healthy,” former Olympic champion Maurice Greene said.
Lolo Jones, a former LSU standout, got the crowd revved up early in the evening by running a fast time in the first round of the 100 hurdles, finishing in 12.50 seconds. A native of Des Moines, she grew up attending meets in this stadium and pumped her fist in exhilaration after crossing the line.
“Competitors are like, ‘Could you please tell them to be quiet? I’m trying to focus,’” Jones said. “But it really fuels me. “I’m peaking at the right time.”
In the women’s 100, Oregon star and NCAA champion English Gardner, who just recently turned pro, captured the title, breezing past the field even on a balky ankle. Octavious Freeman was second and Alexandria Anderson took third to earn spots to worlds.
“I really came out and performed well,” Gardner said. “It’s going to be a long haul, me and this ankle. It’s a very emotional battle.”
Gay knows all about that. His hip was so sore last summer that he trained on grass leading up to the Olympic trials to save wear and tear.
At the trials, he gritted his teeth through the pain and made the team for the London Games.
Then came heartbreak, edged out by Gatlin in the Olympic final for the bronze medal. Instant tears after the race as Gay finished off the podium.
Gay wasn’t ready to call the race Friday a statement, but it did show him this: He’s on the right path.
“I want to run faster,” Gay said. “But it felt good to get the win.”
Gay entered the race with the fastest time in the world. But Gatlin had the more impressive win, recently beating Usain Bolt. Gatlin led early, only to be caught by Gay.
“He didn’t show anything different than what I’ve seen of Tyson before,” said the 31-year-old Gatlin, who tweaked his hamstring at a recent meet but hid the injury until Friday. “A healthy Justin and a prime Justin will be able to (race) all the way to the line.”
Other winners on Friday were A.G. Kruger (hammer throw), Brad Walker (pole vault), Lance Brooks (discus) and Sharon Day (heptathlon). It was a quite a two-day stretch for Day as she as she finished with a personal-best score of 6,550 points.
Also peaking at the right time is NCAA champion Brianna Rollins, who had the fastest time in the heats (a wind-aided 12.33) in her first race as a professional after a standout career at Clemson.
For Ashton Eaton, the first day of the decathlon was only about playing it safe and not chasing after his own world record. Eaton is in second place behind Gunnar Nixon after five events.
The 25-year-old Eaton was one of the top stories at the Olympic trials last summer. Over two dreary days in Eugene, Ore., Eaton shined as he wound up with 9,039 points to eclipse Roman Sebrle’s 11-year-old world mark by 13 points.
Later, he won gold in London.
Trey Hardee didn’t start the high jump and was disqualified in the 400 for a lane violation. No matter, because he’s not competing for a score so much as squeezing in some practice. He already has an automatic spot to Moscow as the reigning world champion. He will keep going in Day 2 of the competition.
LaShawn Merritt had the top time in the 400 to advance to the final, while Manteo Mitchell squeaked into the last spot after Michael Berry was disqualified for lane violation. Mitchell was the feel-good story at the London Games when he kept running his portion of the 1,600-meter relay on a broken leg. The team would qualify and eventually capture a silver medal. Sanya Richards-Ross also advanced to the final in the women’s 400 despite a surgically repaired big toe.
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