- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tyson Gay will not compete in the 200-meter run at the Beijing Games after succumbing to a cramp in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials last weekend.

That is the unforgiving nature of the trials. You either finish in the top three to secure a place on the U.S. Olympic team, or you go home and begin looking to the London Games in four years.

There are no exceptions, not even for the world champion in the 200.

Gay surrendered to a cramp in a 200 heat in Eugene, Ore., and just like that, his dream of claiming Olympic gold in both the 100 and 200 in Beijing was finished.

And that is as it should be.

It is true that the U.S. does not always field its best track and field teams because of this unyielding dynamic. It is equally true that the governing body of track and field could devise a system that awards berths on the team to those exceptional few who have set world records or topped the world’s best in competitions going into the Summer Games.

Gay would have met this qualifying standard, and the U.S. team going to Beijing would have been stronger because of it.

Winning medals, after all, is the object of the Olympic Games, contrary to the self-serving spiel of the International Olympic Committee, which likes to think it is promoting goodwill and brotherhood among humanity.

That is the argument that would have allowed Gay to compete in the 200 in Beijing, and it is a valid one.

The flip side of the debate is also valid. The U.S. track and field trials duplicate the passion, drama and anxiety of the Olympics. You do not earn a medal for fourth place in the Olympics, no more than you earn a spot on the U.S. team with fourth place in the trials.

The trials implore athletes to adjust their training schedules and reach the peak of their physical powers at the prescribed time, just as the Olympics do. It makes for compelling theater as one athlete’s pain becomes another’s gain.

And so it was for Wallace Spearman, who finished third in the 200 trials to earn a spot on the U.S. team.

Gay, who is looking to be back at full strength within two weeks, remains a gold medal hopeful in Beijing in the 100 and the 400-meter relay.

He is seeking to claim his piece of Olympic fame, which is no easy undertaking in a sport that no longer captivates America.

It is a doping-plagued sport that is now perceived along the lines of the Tour de France, although its beauty remains undeniable.

Track and field has been devalued as an endeavor in the last generation, subjected as it has been to the scandals of Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, the institutional corruptness of the old Eastern bloc nations and increasingly sophisticated testing that has exposed so many shot-putters and discus throwers as chemically enhanced behemoths.

The devaluation has cheapened what used to be the coveted appellations of track and field, whether “the world’s fastest human” reserved for the 100 winner or “the world’s greatest athlete” that went to the decathlon winner.

The emergence of Gay, who won three gold medals at the Osaka world championships last year, is seen as a potential uplifting element of the sport. The Lexington, Ky., native has a likeable spirit and charm. He was not afraid to say he was “scared of losing” in Osaka, and he is quick to note that he is the product of a God-fearing mother.

Gay also wants to do his part to curb the doping suspicions that haunt track and field.

That sense of responsibility prompted him to commit to the new testing program of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which establishes the baseline chemistry of each athlete and uses the information in subsequent testing.

Yet whatever Gay accomplishes in Beijing, it will be less than he would have had it.

Difficult as the reality of the trials is, it is proper.

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