They met just once on the track last year – in the 100m final at the World Championships in Berlin – and their paths will cross again tomorrow at the Jamaica International meeting in Kingston. The world will have to wait a little while yet, though, to see the same kind of sparks fly that Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt generated when they went head-to-head in the German capital last August.
Back then in Berlin, Gay clocked 9.71 seconds, an American record for the 100m, while Bolt blitzed to a 9.58sec world record. Tomorrow in Kingston, they will be racing apart: Gay in the 400m, Bolt in the 200m. Nevertheless, the two heavyweights of the sprint game are gearing up for some big match-ups to come on the IAAF's new Diamond League circuit. The pair have already been contracted to a 100m showdown in Brussels on 26 August and two other confrontations are expected. The talk of the track suggests New York in June and Crystal Palace in August but there has been no confirmation as yet.
What is beyond doubt is that Gay, having had his thunder stolen since his 100m-200m double at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007, is taking steps to catch up with "The Lightning Bolt". For one thing, following the disruption to his preparations for last summer's World Championships, he has undergone surgery to correct a groin injury. For another, the 27-year-old American has re-tuned his thinking so that the figures he has in mind for the 100m this year are in line with those that his 23-year-old Jamaican rival achieved ahead of him in Berlin.
Gay did the same last winter, after watching Bolt run 9.69sec to win Olympic gold in Beijing, and at the end of the 2009 season he clocked 9.69sec in Shanghai – a 0.02sec improvement on his Berlin performance. "I've already programmed my mind to run faster," he said yesterday, speaking from his training base in Orlando, Florida. "I'm thinking of 9.58sec or faster this year."
Might it not have been better for the native Kentuckian, though, if Bolt had not been around? After all, he would be standing apart as the fastest man of all-time, the next quickest at 100m being Bolt's compatriot, Asafa Powell, with 9.72sec. "I'm very thankful that Usain Bolt is running as fast as he is because he's pushing me to run faster and faster," Gay maintained. "It's a huge motivation for me and it's a huge thing for the sport. It's something that track and field needs.
"The last time we ran against each other – Usain, myself and Asafa – was in Berlin and I think this year is going to be really exciting for the fans. I think when we hook up together the world record could go down."
The outdoor track season has barely started and yet already Gay has one notable achievement under his belt. Making a rare venture over 400m in Gainesville, Florida, two weeks ago, he improved his lifetime best from 45.58sec to 44.89sec, becoming the first sprinter to break 10sec for 100m, 20sec for 200m and 45sec for 400m. "I wasn't aware of that until someone told me a few days ago," he said. "I was pretty shocked that I ran 44sec. I was just hoping for a strong work-out.
"My groin has recovered 100 per cent since the surgery but I've been taking things slowly. That race is the only time I've worn spikes and I haven't started on any speed work yet. I'm hoping to do things the Michael Johnson way: the way he had the strength in the 400m and dropped his times down in the shorter races from there."
After tomorrow's 400m in Kingston, Gay will be in Manchester a fortnight on Sunday chasing the clock at half the distance in the Great City Games. He hopes to break the world record time for a 200m run on a straight track: 19.5sec, clocked by Tommie Smith in San Jose in 1966.
The all-time American track and field great, who famously performed a Black Power salute after winning the 200m at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, has been invited by the Manchester organisers to watch Gay attack his 44-year-old record on a specially constructed track on Deansgate.