The US athlete Tyson Gay, who won three golds at the Osaka World Championships, including both individual short sprints, has been elected Athlete of the Year 2007, the very title that his hero Carl Lewis was awarded in 1988!
Extract from IAAF 2007 Yearbook
We have only once ever seen Tyson Gay’s placid persona vary, and that was when the young athlete from Lexington, Kentucky, won the 100m World title in 9.85.
We had been kept waiting throughout the summer to finally see him and Asafa Powell fight it out on the track. When they finally came together, on the evening of 26 August in Osaka’s Nagai Stadium, it is Gay who triumphed, winning his first major international title, whilst beating for the first time the Jamaican World record holder.
Crucially, he had also overcome his nerves, and the intense stress that this very special event had placed upon his shoulders.
“I had been so scared. Scared of losing. I had ran very well at the US championships, but this was another dimension. I did not want to disappoint. I had watched Powell progress through the qualifying rounds and it was obvious he was in great shape. I’ll never live through such an intense moment again!”
And so, when he crossed the finishing line, the generally placid American was suddenly submerged by joy, the dam he places round his emotions bursting as he screamed his elation and beat his chest in celebration, burning off the enormous burst of adrenaline built up over the course of the 100m.
For a few moments he seemed almost to have lost control, rabid and showboating simultaneously, reminiscent of Maurice Greene, the childhood hero he had just emulated by winning the World title, and who he is so different from.
He had already imitated him by pulling out his tongue as he crossed the finishing line - a direct homage to the man whose whole attitude and demeanour were so different from his, but who he had always so admired.
In 2002 Tyson had come home from the US trials, proudly clutching a photo showing him in the lane next to the man who at the time ruled over the world of sprint.
Gay was back to his usual self by the following day and we saw him, as polite and humble as ever, receive his award of Athlete of the Year on 25 November.
Ever self-effacing, he seemed almost embarrassed at having being designated as a rightful heir to legends of the track such as King Carl Lewis, the first-ever recipient of the title, declaring.
"I think for this year, winning the World Championships, makes me the fastest man in the world, but I honestly believe that I need to have the World record like some of the other great sprinters like Carl Lewis, Maurice Greene. I think that sets you apart, having medals and having the World record."
Such an attitude is typical of the man. It is a value he has inherited from the person he describes as “my model” - his mother, Daisy Lowe. Gay, like his beloved mother, never seems to utter a cross word. He possesses a deep and unwavering faith, and casts a calm and thoughtful outlook on life, always careful to keep everything in perspective.
The speed with which his career has taken off this year could easily have pushed him into a world of hype and "trash-talking".
In 2005, Gay was still only the fourth-ranked American over 200m, finishing behind three other US athletes at the Helsinki World Championships.
The following year, in 2006, he was kept out of the limelight by Xavier Carter and Asafa Powell. Now that he has burst on to the front of the world stage, however, he remains as reserved as ever.
“He is so well balanced, in every aspect of his life, that whatever he achieves from now on will not change the way he is,” says his mother, Daisy.
In the Osaka changing room, Gay made a point of seeking out the valiant opponent he had finally managed to overcome. He kneeled down by him, offered a quiet prayer and then uttered a few words of comfort.
“Asafa is somebody who deserves our total respect. I just told him to keep his head up, to stay focused on what he knows, and reminded him that if we both stayed in good health we would be meeting again very often, would both have a lot of success on the track, and that he would have many more opportunities to shine.”
Already Gay is looking ahead to new victories, and has started his preparations in earnest, as motivated as ever. He plans to carry on working with two coaches, Lance Brauman (who has left Arkansas to settle in Orlando, Florida), and Jon Drummond, “taking the best each has to offer.”
Over Christmas he will be taking no more than two days off to be with his family. "This season is too important for me," he explains. "I know that I must remain focused, improve my starts and keep working hard, because nobody else is going to be letting up."
Regarding his next meetings with Powell, he says. ”I think we can expect to see some fabulous races. I am sure that we shall come face to face on the track before the Games, and I sincerely believe that Asafa will be ready and psyched up, and that I too am capable of running 9.7. Both of us will be under huge pressure in Beijing: he is the World record holder, and needs the Olympic title, whereas I beat him in Osaka and am just as desperate for that Olympic gold medal..."
One thing certain is that emotions will be running high in Beijing.
Jean-Denis Coquard for the IAAF