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The new face in the 100 meters is Gay

5 June 2007

By Robert Falkoff

There's good news for those who love the excitement of a pending showdown in the 100 meters. Tyson Gay is putting the sizzle back into sprinting.

A year ago about this time, the track-and-field world was mesmerized by the back-and-forth exploits of Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin, who appeared headed toward a celebrated head-to-head duel in the 100 somewhere in Europe. But then Gatlin was abruptly removed from the sprinting equation and now faces an arbitration hearing on doping charges. It was Powell's event, pure and simple, by process of elimination.

Until now.

Gay, the former University of Arkansas standout, has been creating a buzz with his 100-meter performances in recent weeks, and now there's talk that he may be ready to challenge Powell's dominance as the countdown continues toward the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan.

Last week in New York, Gay was literally gone with the wind as he clocked a 9.76 to win the 100 meters at the Reebok Grand Prix. All that kept Gay from a world record was the wind factor. With the wind at his back registering 2.20 meters per second, Gay wasn't able to put that 9.76 into the record books. The allowable margin for a world record is 2.0 meters per second.

The fans at Icahn Stadium knew it wasn't a fluke, since Gay had run a wind-aided 9.79 two weeks earlier in Carson, Calif. From West Coast to East Coast, Gay has let it be known that Powell is on his radar screen in '07. That's good for Gay, good for Powell and superb for track and field.

In a glamor event like the 100 meters, great competition equals great interest. If it was just a matter of Powell racing against the clock in hopes of lowering the 9.77 world record, it wouldn't have nearly as much appeal as the image of Powell and Gay powering through the final 10 meters of the 100 in a dead heat.

Can Gay knock Powell off the pedestal? Or will the champion swat away the challenger?

Either way, the 100-meter drama that will play out this summer is certainly a welcome relief for those who were deflated by the implosion of the Gatlin-Powell saga. Gay, 24, said prior to his 9.76 in New York that he wanted to help get rid of the cloud over the sport. He's well on his way to doing just that.

At the Penn Relays in early May, Gay had talked about the importance of having a serious challenger to Powell. But Gay didn't make his point in a brash way. He paid the champion his due by suggesting that Powell would be hard to beat this year unless Powell made a mistake.

"I am really working hard and I am sure Asafa wants more competition," Gay told The Jamaica Observer. "I want this to be a rivalry. I want to step up to the plate."

Gay continues to work on his burst from the starting blocks and staying relaxed from the gun to the finish line. As he refines the technical issues, Gay feels he can only improve in the 100. When he hits that race where the wind cooperates, look out.

But Powell also feels he has much room for growth in the 100. He has cautiously worked his way back from an injury while plotting a course which he hopes will enable him to hit an '07 peak in Osaka.

Last year, it was Powell versus Gatlin. This year, it's Powell versus Gay. Suddenly, there's a new force in Powell's world. That once-ominous cloud over the 100-meter event indeed seems to be disappearing.

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