By his own admission, Tyson Gay was "still rusty" when he emerged on the European circuit at Gateshead on Saturday for only his second meeting of a summer track season delayed by a hamstring problem. Running in the Aviva British Grand Prix Diamond League meeting, the 27-year-old American still managed to win his 100m heat in 9.96sec, then recovered from a poor start to overhaul Asafa Powell in the closing 20m of a gripping final, edging out the Jamaican by 0.02sec in 9.94sec.
For Gay, in his first outings over the distance this year, they were routine ventures under the 10-seconds barrier – the 27th and 28th of his career. For Powell, his 9.96sec clocking in the final was his 70th in total, a record 64th without illegal wind assistance. All of which placed into perspective the overnight news that was the talk of the track in Gateshead.
Running in the French Championships at Valence on Friday, Christophe Lemaitre had stopped the trackside clock at 9.98sec. With a following wind of 1.3 metres-per-second, 0.7 inside the allowable limit, it was the first legal sub-10 seconds 100m run by a white sprinter.
The Pole Marian Woronin actually clocked 9.992sec in Warsaw in 1984 but as track and field times are not registered beyond a hundredth of a second it was rounded up to an official time of 10.00sec. Dunfermline's Ian Mackie won the 100m final at the Scottish Championships at Meadowbank Stadium in 1998 in 9.9997sec but that too was rounded up to 10.00sec and was also invalidated because of a following wind of 2.9 metres-per-second.
Lemaitre's landmark run has knocked Dwain Chambers off the top of the continental rankings ahead of the European Championships, which open in Barcelona a fortnight tomorrow, 27 July. The 31-year-old Briton narrowly beat the 20-year-old Frenchman at the European Team Championships in Bergen last month, clocking 9.99sec. "In Barcelona, the favourite will be Chambers," Lemaitre's coach, Pierre Carraz, insisted. "He has the experience as an advantage. However, Christophe puts no barrier in his head. He's fresh and young and doesn't think too much, so everything is possible in his mind."
Lemaitre, who won the European junior title in 10.04sec last summer, will be heading for the Catalan capital thinking that a sprint double is eminently possible, having proceeded to win the 200m at the French Championships on Saturday in 20.16sec. It equalled the French record for the longer distance set in 1987 by Gilles Quénéhervé, and shaved 0.03sec off the European under-23 record set by Britain's Christian Malcolm 10 years ago. The next race for the young French flier just happens to be against Usain Bolt, and Powell, in the 100m at the Diamond League meeting at the Stade de France in northern Paris on Friday night.
Chambers will be precluded from that little burn-up – as he was from the 100m in Gateshead – because of the Diamond League's refusal to invite past doping offenders. At least he has been able to put down a winning marker in Barcelona, though. Running on the Montjuic track where Linford Christie sprinted to Olympic gold in 1992, the Belgrave Harrier won the 100m in an invitation meeting on Friday night in 10.14sec.
Jessica Ennis -– the big British hope for gold at the European Championships – was not quite so swift at Gateshead on Saturday. After missing two weeks of training because of a virus, the world heptathlon champion threw a season's best of 46.15m in the javelin but showed signs of rust in the 200m, bringing up the rear in 23.55sec. "I've just lost a little bit of sharpness," she said. "I'm sure I can get it back before Barcelona."