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Gay takes center stage

He completes the sprint double at the world championships with a meet-record 19.76 seconds in the 200.

August 31, 2007|Philip Hersh | Special to the Times

OSAKA, Japan -- Earlier this season, when his fast times in the 100 meters were causing a buzz in track and field's small world, Tyson Gay asked his technique consultant, Olympic gold medalist Jon Drummond, "Do you think anybody knows who I am?"

"Not many did then," Drummond said Thursday, "but now he is going to have to live with the fact that everyone does."

One year before the Olympics, the period when his sport briefly regains a place in the USA's consciousness, Gay suddenly has become its highest-profile star -- in the first season he has had a significant profile.

Barring injury or another unforeseen circumstance, Gay will go to the 2008 Beijing Summer Games as the world's premier sprinter, favored to become the first man since Carl Lewis in 1984 to win gold medals in both the 100 and 200 meters.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, September 01, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Track and field: An article on Tyson Gay's victories in the 100 and 200 meters in the world championships in Friday's Sports section said that Maurice Greene was the only other man to have won both events in one world championship meet. Justin Gatlin also did it, in 2005. The article also said Gay's agent was Ed Whetmore; Gay's agent is Mark Wetmore.

Gay has won both impressively at the world championships this week, adding the 200 title Thursday -- in a meet record 19.76 seconds -- to the 100 title he won Sunday, when he routed world record-holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica.

Not only is he fast, Gay has a back story that invites curiosity. His coach, Lance Brauman, left prison Tuesday after a 366-day term for a conviction on charges of misappropriating funds at the community college where Gay was among his athletes.

"I don't really like to be the center of attention," Gay said. "But I'm learning how to take care of it, and sometimes it's fun."

It was when Japanese children recognized him at a local McDonald's this week and asked for his autograph. "It was great," Gay said. "I don't get that at home."

Ironically, being a U.S. track star also could be a good thing for Gay, of Fayetteville, Ark. NBC has decided swimming and gymnastics will be the focal point of its Olympic coverage, so Gay likely will not have to deal with the promotional drumbeat threatening to deafen swimmer Michael Phelps.

But leading U.S. Olympic athletes generally cash in more the year before the Olympics than after them. So Gay's agent, Ed Whetmore of Global Athletics and Marketing, will have to balance opportunity against potential distraction.

"You've got to want the heat, and you can't want to hide. You have to accept the spotlight and keep it in perspective," veteran track coach John Smith said. "You get all the stuff you want, and some stuff you don't want comes with it."

Smith coaches Maurice Greene, the only other man to win the 100-200 double at worlds. Greene did it a year before the 2000 Olympics, but his 200 victory came in the absence of world-record holder Michael Johnson, whose 1995 meet record Gay broke.

"Our plan was to capture the attention a year in advance by Maurice winning the 100 and 200 and then carrying the flag, so to speak, into the Olympic Games," Smith said.

A projected Greene-Johnson battle in the Olympics generated a tremendous amount of media coverage. Then both came up lame in the 200 final at the U.S. trials and failed to make the team in the event, deflating the pressure on each at the Games.

Lewis was the last to be favored in both, but he was so much better than anyone else in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles that his victories seemed a foregone conclusion.

Gay, 25, is the same age as Greene was at the 1999 worlds, when he also won gold on the 400-meter relay team. Gay will run that relay final Saturday, presuming the U.S. team qualifies, always a question given a 20-year history of botched baton exchanges.

"Maurice is a little more vocal than Tyson was, but both were young and a little naive about what is going to be present when you reach this magnitude of success," Drummond said.

Although Gay came to Osaka with world-leading times in the 100 and 200, he did not expect to win both.

"I thought I was going to get third or second in the 100," Gay said. "What I have learned most here is how to block negative thoughts from my mind."

Gay speaks so softly it is difficult to hear what is on his mind, especially in the crush and din of the area where athletes talk to the media after races.

Yet he has become palpably more comfortable with that exercise over the two months since his dazzling victories in both sprints at the U.S. Championships.

"Once you get past the initial surprise of being in this position where everyone wants to talk with you, it gets easier," Smith said.

"I'm sure Tyson will handle it all fine."

Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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Track and field championships

Thursday's (other) big event: "Mum" was the word in the women's 400-meter hurdles final. Winner Jana Rawlinson of Australia -- where they say "Mum" rather than "Mom" -- had the youngest child of the three mothers in the race. Rawlinson's son, Cornelis, was born only eight months ago. "If I can win this after eight months, next year is going to be really exciting," said Rawlinson, also world champion in 2003.

Today's big events: The men's 400-meter final, in which the only contest is to see whether Jeremy Wariner of the United States can break Michael Johnson's world record of 43.18 seconds, and the women's 200 final, in which U.S. stars Allyson Felix, the defending champion, and Sanya Richards duel each other and Jamaica's Veronica Campbell.

Quotes of the day: "The last jump was like something that happened in another world" -- Panama's Irving Paladino on winning the long jump title on his sixth jump at 28 feet 1 1/2 inches minutes after Italy's Andrew Howe had knocked Paladino out of the lead on his last jump with a 27-9 1/2 effort.

"It is a complete and total inspiration" -- U.S. distance runner Adam Goucher on the surprise bronze medal his wife Kara won last week in the 10,000. Adam Goucher qualified Thursday for Sunday's 5,000 final.

Note of the day: With three days left in the meet, China won its first medal, a bronze by Zhang Wenxiu in the women's hammer throw.

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-- Philip Hersh

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