EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Tyson Gay is finally at peace with himself after a 2013 doping positive cost him his reputation and the only Olympic medal he ever won.
Now the American sprinter hopes to rekindle the speed that once made him a double world champion.
A big step in the long process came on Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League in Oregon where the 32-year-old pulled off a season-opening victory in the 100 meters.
His time of 9.88 seconds was the third fastest in the world for 2015, and his best since returning last year from his doping suspension.
For Gay, that was a significant accomplishment.
“Winning this race gave me a lot of peace,” said the American record holder whose 100 meters best of 9.69 second came in 2009.
“I know I’ve still got it, and that competitive edge will never leave, so that felt pretty good.”
Feeling good about himself, however, has not been an easy path.
“I kind of broke down last year,” said Gay, who tested positive for a banned substance but was given a reduced suspension of one year after providing information that led to an eight-year ban for his former coach Jon Drummond.
”I was stressed out, I was overweight,“ said Gay, who also forfeited his London Olympics 4x100 meters relay silver medal. ”It was more about my character, my name.
“It wasn’t about the year off. It was about the fact that people believed I was full of steroids and stuff like that, and no one considered it was a mistake ... that just broke me down.”
He tearfully admitted to his positive test in 2013, saying: “I don’t have a sabotage story. I don’t have lies ... I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.”
Gay eventually hopes to say more, “so I can clear it up and people can understand what a mistake can do to your life,” he said on Saturday.
He has asked for forgiveness, but the fact that he was suspended for only a year, permissible under current anti-doping rules, has not sat well with some of his rivals.
”It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,“ Jamaican world record holder Usain Bolt told Runner’s World. ”The message should be: ‘If you cheat, you’re going to be kicked out of the sport’.
“I respected him so much over the years ... then to find out that he was on drugs.”
By contrast Bolt said he had no problem competing against current world leader Justin Gatlin who served a four-year ban for a second doping offence but has never admitted to doping.
A warm round of applause greeted Gay when he introduced before Saturday’s race, but he acknowledged he was nervous.
“I‘m in a new coaching environment,” said the sprinter who moved West and is now directed by high-profile coach John Smith in Los Angeles.
”The transition is going smooth, it’s just a little different so I‘m still adapting.
“It feels great to get the victory, to have all that stress behind me,” said Gay, who had to dip at the finish to claim the win.
He will be back on the same Oregon track later this month for the U.S. world championships trials, and he knows the challenge will be much greater.
Not only will seasoned Olympic runners Mike Rodgers, who Gay beat on Saturday, and Ryan Bailey be there, but also the latest batch of young American sprinters.
All will be running for one of four U.S. spots in the 100 meters at August’s world championships in Beijing.
Gatlin already has a bye for one of them, and will contest just the 200 in hopes of doubling at Beijing.
Gay won both the 100 and 200 at the 2007 world championships before Bolt began dominating the sprints.
“I haven’t competed at the world championships since 2009,” said Gay of the bygone days, “so to make the team would be a huge blessing.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes