A few minutes after proving himself a challenger for the title of fastest man on the planet, Tyson Gay looked more like the slowest. After running a blistering 19.58 seconds in the 200 meters at the Reebok Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon, the 26-year-old sprinter ambled gingerly to a warmup track next to New York City's Icahn Stadium, stretched for a few minutes, plopped onto his back, stretched again and got a massage. "Sorry I took so long, guys," Gay told autograph seekers an hour later. "I haven't run that fast in I don't know how long."
Try never. Gay's run was the third fastest in history, behind only Usain Bolt's 19.30 in Beijing last summer and Michael Johnson's 19.32 in Atlanta in 1996. It was a stunning redemption for the 2007 world champ in the 100 and 200, who entered 2008 with massive expectations and ended the year in seclusion in his home in Clermont, Fla., after a hamstring injury suffered at the Olympic trials contributed to his ruinous performance in Beijing. (He didn't run the 200, failed to qualify for the 100 finals and dropped the baton in the 4×100 relay.) "I didn't go out a lot," Gay says, "because I felt I let a lot of people down."
He underwent minor knee surgery in November and began speed workouts only a week before the New York meet, with a few starts and 60-meter sprints. Even on Saturday he felt himself leaning too far to the inside through the turns. "I haven't turned my body on yet," he said.
Expect him to do that when he faces Bolt at the world championships in Berlin in August. The Jamaican has lived a rock star's life and not faced serious competition since his record-setting three-gold-medal performance in Beijing. To preserve his fastest man title, Bolt may need to run even faster this summer than he did at the Olympics. "Now," says Gay, "I believe that's what it's going to take to win."