EUGENE, Ore. — Tyson Gay took a giant swig of water and then another before crouching into the starting blocks.
The American record holder breathed deeply and cleared his mind — forgetting all about the surgically repaired right hip or that he really hasn’t tested it out at top-end speed in more than a year.
All that mattered was this race before him, the 100-meter final in the U.S. Olympics trials Sunday night.
And after flying down the track, not a trace of a limp in his step, this much was clear: The old Tyson Gay was back. He finished second to 2004 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin, who crossed the line in 9.80 seconds. Gay was only 0.06 seconds behind, but the time hardly mattered.
He was headed to the London Games when a year ago that very notion looked improbable.
“Bittersweet. I always like to win,” Gay said. “I came in second. But at the end of the day, it was about making the team. I got to make sure I turn this little bit of a frown into a happy face. For me to start training in March and make the team is a beautiful accomplishment.”
Also joining Gatlin and Gay in London will be 23-year-old Ryan Bailey, who edged 2009 U.S. champion Mike Rodgers, Doc Patton and Walter Dix, the Olympic bronze medalist in Beijing.
Dix pulled up in the semifinals with a left hamstring injury and wasn’t the same in the final. He’s hoping to be ready for the 200 later this week.
“Things like this happen. I really can’t say much about it,” Dix said.
For Gatlin, his comeback is nearly complete.
The last time he was at the Olympics trials — eight years ago — he was a youngster about ready to become the next big thing in sprinting. He won gold in Athens and a world title the following year, before his fall from grace.
He tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, leading to a four-year ban that prevented him from defending his title in Beijing.
Now 30, he’s attempting to repair his tarnished image.
“Usually, I have a lot of words. I’m almost speechless,” Gatlin said. “Everything just feels so surreal. I just let the heart really go out and do what it had to do.
“I wasn’t too hyped, wasn’t too calm. It felt just right and went out there and gave it my all. I have a lot more left in the tank.”
How much faster can he go?
“Enough to win another gold,” he said.
As expected, LaShawn Merritt cruised to the 400 title. So did Sanya Richards-Ross moments later in the women’s race.
Both looked sharp with London right around the corner.
Merritt, the reigning Olympic champion, finished in a world-leading time of 44.12 seconds. Joining him on the squad were Tony McQuay and USC standout Bryshon Nellum, who has an incredible story: Making the team after being shot in the legs as he left a restaurant near campus following a Halloween party in 2008.
Noticeably missing from the 400 team was Jeremy Wariner, the silver medalist in Beijing and 2004 Olympic gold medal winner. He finished a distant sixth and won’t be going to London, unless it’s as a member of the relay team.
Wariner trudged off the track with his hands on his hips, refusing to stop and talk.
In other finals:
—Olympic silver medalist and American record holder Jenn Suhr won the pole vault. She beat Becky Holliday, who has funded her training over the years by working odd jobs as a server and a bagger at the airport.
—Reigning Olympic discus champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton easily earned a spot.
—Marquise Goodwin, a receiver at the University of Texas, won the long jump with a leap of 27 feet, 4 inches.
—Reese Hoffa led a solid cast of shot putters, winning the event with Ryan Whiting and Christian Cantwell also making the team. Cantwell captured silver in 2008.
“I think we have three really strong throwers. We always send a strong team,” Hoffa said. “We have to get it done this time.”
There was no resolution just yet on a way to break the tie for third place between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the women’s 100.
And With no protocol in place, there’s no guessing how USA Track and Field plans to settle the situation. The organization is still determining a procedure to settle the situation.
Bobby Kersee, who coaches both sprinters, just hopes the national governing body doesn’t do anything in haste.
To decide anything right now, the coach said, isn’t fair to Felix or Tarmoh, especially because they are both running the 200 later this week.
Felix and Tarmoh finished in a dead heat for the last U.S. spot in the 100 to the London Games, each leaning across the finish line in 11.068 seconds Saturday. One of them will join Carmelita Jeter and Tianna Madison, who are already on the team.
“Just leave them alone until after they run the 200 meters and then come up with a decision, how they’re going to figure out the way they want to settle this,” Kersee said. “This is a situation to be dealt with later, after you give the athletes an opportunity to focus on what they need to do, what they’ve been waiting around to do for four years.”
The 200 final is Saturday and the trials conclude the following day.
“You don’t have to bother us about this now,” he said. “You can wait until later.”