Tyson Gay got quite a fright in his first race Saturday. He set a record in his second.
Gay broke Maurice Greene's American mark in the 100 meters by running 9.77 seconds in his quarterfinal at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.
"It tells me I'm in pretty good shape," Gay said. "We've got two more rounds left."
He tied the fourth-fastest time in the history of the event, despite clearly easing up a tad over his final few strides. Still, that was nothing compared what he did in his opening heat earlier in the day, when Gay came awfully close to a monumental blunder. After building a big lead, the reigning world champion eased up a lot with about 30 meters left _ so much that the rest of the field began to catch him. Gay was forced to accelerate again and he lunged across the finish line in fourth place, good enough to advance. "The first round I was scared. I almost started crying. I didn't know if I made it," Gay said after bettering the record Greene set in 1999. "This round I felt good."
As well he should. The performance had to be a big boost of confidence for Gay, who was a distant second _ a spectator, really _ in New York on May 31, when Jamaica's Usain Bolt broke the world record by clocking 9.72.
Gay's had to answer plenty of questions about how much of a challenge he'll present at the Beijing Olympics to Bolt and another Jamaican, previous world record-holder Asafa Powell. Could Gay challenge Bolt's mark in Sunday's semifinal or final? "Anything's possible," said Wallace Spearmon, who sneaked into the semifinals by running 10.07. "Tyson's fast." So is the track at Hayward Field, which already has produced two U.S. records in running events and is serving up the sort of dry, hot weather _ the temperature hit 95 degrees Saturday _ conducive to quick sprinting.
The runner-up in Gay's quarterfinal was Jeffery Demps of Okahumpka, Florida, who got out of the blocks a bit ahead of the favorite and wound up setting a national high school record at 10.01. In other words, this was a very fast race. Between the heats, Gay blamed his mistake in his opener on misjudging the lines on the track. It was hardly a veteran move from a man who has won the past two U.S. titles in the dash. He also completed a 100-200 double at the 2007 world championships. When Gay spoke to his coach, Jon Drummond, before the quarterfinal, there was something of a talking-to. "He told me champions don't do that," Gay said, "and I had to make up for it."
Indeed, had he not recovered, an exit by Gay in the first round of qualifying would have been a major surprise at this 10-day meet to determine the American roster for the Beijing Games. His time of 10.14 seconds tied for the 11th-fastest among the 30 starters in the 100. That stuck him in lane 2 for his quarterfinal, a less-than-ideal position.
But it didn't matter, and after Gay crossed the finish line, well ahead of everyone else, he looked up at the scoreboard briefly. Then the trailing runners approached to offer pats on the back and palm slaps.
Walter Dix, the 2007 NCAA champion from Florida State, Xavier Carter and John Capel were among others advancing to the 100 semifinals.
In the women's 100 semifinals Saturday, Torri Edwards used a perfectly timed start and down-the-stretch speed to win her heat in 10.78 seconds _ the fastest legal 100 time in the world this year, by a whopping 10th of a second.
That time also makes Edwards, the 2003 world champion, the eighth-fastest woman in history. She had no desire to discuss that showing, however, with the event final coming later Saturday. "Finals, please," she said to reporters, and kept walking. Saturday's schedule at Hayward Field also included the conclusion of the heptathlon and the men's shot put final.
Hyleas Fountain, Jacquelyn Johnson and Diana Pickler qualified for the U.S. team in the heptathlon. Fountain finished first with 6,667 points, Johnson was second and Pickler third. Reese Hoffa, Christian Cantwell and Adam Nelson made the team in the shot put. Hoffa, the reigning world outdoor champion, finished first, Cantwell was second, and two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson was third.