LOCALS IN LONDON
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LONDON — His team finished second. Hard to call Tyson Gay a loser on this night, though.
OK, so it wasn't a gold medal and it didn't come in an individual track-and-field event. But after a disappointing Beijing Olympics and years of injury and frustration before a tear-filled fourth-place finish in this year's 100-meter final, Gay didn't care.
The 30-year-old sprinter won a silver medal in the 4x100-meter relay Saturday night, his first of any kind on the sport's biggest stage.
"That's the part of my heart that was missing," said Gay, who teamed with Trell Kimmons, Justin Gatlin and Ryan Bailey. "I think I finally filled it. Sometimes it's bittersweet when you lose. But I'm just happy to get a medal."
Gay ran the third leg of the relay and admittedly lost ground to Jamaican Yohan Blake. When Gay handed the baton to Bailey, who was even with superstar Usain Bolt, he knew he had no shot at gold. The Jamaicans set the world record at 36.84 seconds. The Americans matched the old mark of 37.04 — set by Bolt and Co. last year — which is still the new American mark.
Hard to be too disappointed about that.
"When (Bolt) got the stick, there was nothing we could do about it," Gay said. "I can't be selfish and say we're mad that we lost. At the end of the day, that's all we had."
For Gay, it was all he needed.
All through the 2007 season, Gay was considered the man to beat at the Beijing Olympics.
But things changed suddenly.
Bolt set the world record in the 100 for the first time at a race in New York in May 2008, blowing away Gay in the process.
Gay said he could make up the ground. But while running the 200 at Olympic trials, Gay strained his left hamstring. He didn't recover in time and wasn't fully healthy once he reached Beijing. He failed to qualify for the 100-meter final, and his trip halfway around the world got worse when was involved in a botched baton exchange in the 4x100 relay that cost the Americans a chance to medal.
His road to London was equally agonizing.
Gay injured his right hip last year and needed surgery. He spent seven weeks on crutches and had other related setbacks later.
His rehabilitation included running mostly on grass until a few months ago, his hip still too sore to take the pounding of track workouts. He hardly raced at all leading up to the U.S. trials, where he finished runner-up to Justin Gatlin to earn an Olympic spot.
He thought he might get his medal in the 100, but after finishing fourth, behind Gatlin, Gay was sobbing.
"There's nothing," he said between the tears. "I just came up short. That's all I did."
Gatlin celebrated his bronze medal at first, but also felt his teammate's pain. On the closing night of the Olympic track meet, he ran the second leg, handed the baton to Gay, then climbed onto the medals stand with him to accept the silver.
"In the 100 meters, I had to think about myself," Gatlin said. "Once the 100 was over, I thought about everyone else's stories and everyone else's struggles. Tyson came back from an injury that could have made him retire at an early age. And knowing that he didn't have a medal when I went out there, I didn't tell him that, but when I went out there I wanted to make sure that he came home with a medal and he was happy with that.
"I asked him if he was happy and he said he was happy."
Elated is more like it.
Whether Gay, who just turned 30, tries to run again in Rio in 2016 remains to be seen. He knows things won't get any easier as he ages, and there are no guarantees how his body will hold up.
That's why this medal meant so much.
"I still want my individual medal," Gay said. "But I feel happy and blessed to get a medal with these guys."