Tyson Gay, the fastest man in U.S. history, broke down in tears as he left the track at London’s Olympic Stadium without a medal hanging around his neck.
“I tried my best and came up short,” the 29-year-old sprinter said to reporters after placing fourth in yesterday’s 100-meter final with a season-best time of 9.80 seconds. “I gave it my best shot, there’s nothing else I can do.”
Usain Bolt set an Olympic record of 9.63 seconds -- the second-fastest time in history -- to defend his title, while Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake took the silver medal with a personal-best time of 9.75 seconds. Justin Gatlin of the U.S., who missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics while serving a four-year doping ban, also set a personal best of 9.79 seconds and beat Gay to the finish by one-hundredth of a second.
Gay stood with his hands clasped around the back of his head sobbing and sniffing as he attempted to answer questions from journalists after another Olympic disappointment.
“I feel good, my body is healthy,” Gay said. “I just feel like I let a lot of people down.”
Four years ago, Gay hurt his hamstring running the 200 meters at the U.S. team trials before the Beijing Games and was eliminated in the 100-meter semifinal heats in China. Gay and teammate Darvis Patton also mishandled a baton exchange in the heats of the 400-meter relay.
A month earlier he had won the 100 in the U.S. trials in a wind-assisted 9.68 seconds. Gay’s fastest official time is 9.69 seconds, an American record that’s only been bettered by Bolt, who joins Carl Lewis as the only men to win back-to-back Olympic 100-meter titles.
Gay’s preparation for the London Games was limited because of hip surgery that prevented him from running on the track until March. He didn’t run a competitive race until June, yet finished second to Gatlin at the U.S. team trials in July with a time of 9.86.
“I knew it was going to be hard for Tyson this season,” Bolt said in a press conference after last night’s final. “For him to even come out and make the finals is big step, what a fighter he is,”
Yesterday’s race was the fastest 100-meter final in Olympic history, with seven of the eight runners completing the race in under 10 seconds. It might have been a clean sweep had Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, 29, not pulled up with an injury in the latter part of the race and finished in 11.99 seconds.
While Bolt pulled away for the victory, Gay’s run for a medal came up short by the smallest margin possible. Gatlin’s time was also the fastest ever by an American at the Olympics, according to USA Track and Field.
“The journey of an athlete is very difficult,” Sanya Richards-Ross, the U.S. winner of the 400-meter race, told reporters. “I have a really strong connection with Tyson and so I know it’s been tough for him to come back.”
Gay turns 30 on Aug. 9, one day before he’ll next run for the U.S. team in the 400-meter relay. If he doesn’t get a medal in that race, there’s no guarantee he’ll be competing at age 34 at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“Tyson has been one of the best in the world for some time,” former Olympic 100-meter champion Maurice Greene of the U.S. said in an interview. “To go through a career and not win a medal is tough.”