NEW YORK (Reuters) - World 100 metres silver medallist Tyson Gay did not mince his words as he strolled the streets of New York in near anonymity.
“It is time for Tyson Gay to put up or shut up,” the American sprinter told Reuters.
Casually dressed in a white-and-blue shirt and light-coloured shorts for the walk to a news conference, he had the serious manner of David planning his challenge to Goliath.
For his own peace of mind, the averagely-built Gay needs to somehow find a way to defeat Usain Bolt, the tall and long-striding Jamaican Olympic and world champion who seemingly wins at will.
“Sometimes I get to talking that I can beat him,” Gay said in the interview arranged by organisers of New York’s Adidas Grand Prix. “After a while I have to do it or shut up.
“I never am going to say I can’t beat him because in my heart I believe I can,” the world’s second fastest man said.
Their 100 metres personal bests stand more than a tenth of a second apart, Gay at 9.69 seconds and Bolt owning the world record of 9.58.
“But he hasn’t run 9.5 in every meet,” said Gay.
For a third consecutive year, his quest to catch Bolt is being hampered by a leg or groin problem.
“Something is causing my hamstring to lock up for the past month or so,” the soft-spoken American said.
An old back injury that flared up after Gay ran the fastest-ever 200 metres straightaway in Manchester in May is the likely culprit.
The condition, which doctors say is not an injury, kept him off the training track for a week and out of Saturday’s grand prix, part of the Diamond League series. He plans to resume competing with a 200 metres at the Oregon Diamond League meeting on July 3.
Bolt, too, has been off track with a sore Achilles tendon. He was scheduled to start full training this week.
“Of course I want to beat him,” said Gay, who at 27 is four years older than Bolt. “I don’t know if it’s a question of ‘how badly’. It’s more of me wanting to do the best I can do. He is the best right now and I want to be the best.”
Gay ranks second all-time to Bolt in the 100 and is the third fastest performer in the 200 behind the Jamaican and former world record holder Michael Johnson. Bolt has the record at 19.19 seconds and Gay’s best is 19.58.
“For me the key is to stay healthy,” said Gay. “And I still continue to try to work on my start. That is something I have been struggling with for years and I just have to have that perfect day one day.”
Personal bests in both the 100 and 200 were his aim for the season, he said.
“I don’t think I have reached my full potential in either event,” Gay said. “The 100 is just something I want to prove to myself and the world that I can do, and the 200 is my first love.”
All the talk about Bolt bothers him “a little bit, and the only reason why is because I haven’t beat him yet (in the 100),” said Gay.
“At the end of the day we all know he has something that we don’t have, and we would all like to have that one day.”
Asked if that would be natural speed, the American replied: “Exactly. And he has the world records and the medals.”
Could Bolt run 9.4 seconds this year?
“With this guy’s stature, and this guy’s mental ability and physical ability to do the things he is doing, I think we are coming close to that,” Gay said.
“He is the first guy with that frame to do the things that he is doing.”
The two have met only twice in 100 metres finals — in New York in 2008 and in the 2009 world championships — with Bolt producing world records both times.
“Obviously he has to have some type of discipline to be able to have two back-to-back years like he has had,” Gay said.
It used to not be that way, at least not in the days when Bolt was a young 200 metres runner still trying to convince his coach he could be great in the 100.
Only twice in eight finals between 2005 and 2007 did Gay lose to Bolt at 200 metres.
Then Bolt learned to squeeze his tall body into the starting blocks and come out quickly enough that his long strides would eventually overpower faster starters in the 100.
Suddenly Gay, who had won both the 100 and 200 metres world titles in 2007 with Bolt second in the latter, was the chaser.
Bolt became athletics’ lightning rod at the Beijing Olympics with three world records while the injured Gay went out in the 100 metres rounds.
London 2012 will be their next chance for an Olympic showdown, “and it’s on my mind right now,” said Gay.
“Coming up short in ‘08 and not making the final, it was terrible. I have to bring the hardware home. I have to. I would trade anything in the world for that.”
Editing by Clare Fallon