Tyson Gay pushed his surgically repaired right hip to the limit as he grimaced and grunted down the track during his first 100-meter race in nearly a year.
Then, he waited for the results.
Not so much for his time on the scoreboard — that was secondary. The real test came the following day when he climbed out of bed.
Now that was all telling.
Gay’s hip felt better than he could have envisioned. Sure, it ached a little bit, but only a little bit.
“This may sound weird, but I was expecting it to feel worse than it does,” Gay said in a phone interview Monday. “I’m glad I got that nervousness out of my system and can now run 100 percent without worrying about anything.”
That’ a load off his mind, because Olympic trials are less than two weeks away.
He has no races scheduled in between, just training in Dallas with coach Jon Drummond as they try to break some bad habits that crept in during Gay’s long layoff.
To make the U.S. squad, Gay has to finish in the top three at trials. That won’t be easy, especially since four Americans have already broken the 10-second barrier this season, including former Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin.
“Just watching some of my competitors run, I believe it will take 9.8 to make the U.S. team,” said Gay, who holds the American record with a time of 9.69 in 2009.
Gay entered the “B” 100-meter race Saturday at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York, finishing in a time of 10.00 seconds as he sprinted into a headwind.
All in all, a solid performance, given he’s still rounding into shape and considering that reigning world champion Yohan Blake won the marquee event later that day in 9.90 seconds.
To be so close to Blake’s time actually gave Gay a surge of confidence. It showed him he’s on the right path.
Now, he’s just hoping there’s enough time to shave off more fractions of a second.
For Gay, it boils down to this: Revamping his technique. He’s swinging his arms too wide and striding too long in practice.
“A lot of wasted movement,” said Gay, who spent Monday at the Gillette World Shaving Headquarters in Boston as he teams up with the company to donate $25,000 to Gay’s high school in Kentucky as part of Gillette’s ‘Get Started’ campaign. “I have to break those.”
He’s also working on giving his hip less time to recover, taking only six-minute breaks in between intervals at practice.
That could come in handy at trials, given the tight turnaround schedule.
Gay will run in the 100 preliminaries on June 23. Not even 24 hours later are the semifinals. And just over two hours after that are the finals.
Provided he advances, it could be a lot of wear and tear on his hip, which is why he’s bringing along two physiotherapists.
The biggest obstacle, though, is how long it actually takes the hip to get limber. He needs about 90 minutes to properly stretch out the hip. That will be cutting it close should he make the field for the final.
Can he make this team?
“That’s the plan,” said Gay, who may run in a small meet in Texas before the trials. “We have four or five runners who are running extremely well. I have to be one of them.”
He knows that in the eyes of many he’s a long shot to make the Olympic team.
After all, he’s only run one competitive race since pulling out of the U.S. championships last summer because of his aching hip.
“I definitely know people are counting me out,” Gay said. “I’d probably count someone out, too, if they haven’t raced in over a year. I’m not really that sharp, so I understand that comes along with the sport. But I think I can do it.”
Since winning three gold medals at the 2007 world championships, Gay has been besieged by injuries and overtaken by Usain Bolt.
These days, Blake, not Gay, may be the only sprinter capable of keeping up with Bolt, the world-record holder and reigning Olympic champion.
Over the weekend, Bolt was in a minor car crash, but wasn’t hurt. Gay sent a tweet out to Bolt, wishing him a speedy recovery.
Asked if Bolt remains the sprinter to catch, Gay didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” Gay said.
With his performance Saturday, Gay definitely feels he’s steadily making up ground.
“I feel good,” he said. “Of course, when I looked up at the clock, I was hoping to run (under 10), like any other sprinter,” Gay said. “At the end of the day, Jon Drummond told me that if I run 9 seconds, I’m back. And if I run 10 seconds I’m back, too. Taking the whole year off and run 10-flat was pretty impressive to him.”