LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Generally in short supply among the world’s fastest sprinters, humility is a virtue which defines the life of Tyson Gay.
Winner of the 100 and 200 meters at last year’s world championships and a favorite to duplicate that double at the Beijing Olympics in August, Gay is happiest away from the limelight.
Unlike former world 100 record-holder Maurice Greene who was known for his swaggering, macho image, Gay is softly-spoken and has no desire whatsoever to boost his ego.
The 25-year-old Kentucky native repeatedly talks about staying humble and has a very close relationship with his mother Daisy, with whom he speaks on a daily basis.
“I think I have always been humble,” Gay said. “I’m a caring guy and I always want everyone to do well. I always want my friends to run fast, I always want everyone to be financially sound and that’s just how I’ve always been.
“Unfortunately I can’t help everyone and my mom has to remind me at times that sometimes you may have to say no, that’s just the way life is. I’m dealing with that.”
Gay, who completed a sprint double at the Adidas Track Classic in Carson, California, on Sunday despite running in searing heat into a headwind, often relies on his mother to calm his nerves before big races.
The two prayed together before the 100 final at last year’s world championships, which Gay won ahead of Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas and Jamaican world-record holder Asafa Powell.
“My mother is a special part of my life and we have been very close since I was a child,” he told reporters before the Carson meeting. “She has supported me from day one, since I stepped on the track.”
Gay believes he has gained immeasurably from the “old-fashioned way” in which he was raised by his mother.
“It was all about discipline, humbleness and respect,” he added. “I had a very comfortable childhood and, if I ever got out of line, no kid wants a whipping or wants to be put on punishment.”
Although Gay won three gold medals at the Osaka world championships — adding a relay gold to his solo wins — and ended 2007 ranked number one over 100 and 200 meters, he is happy to maintain a relatively low profile at home in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“I can still walk the streets,” he said with a smile. “When I go home, some people notice me a little bit.
“They go: ‘Hey, that’s the guy in the newspaper’. ‘That’s the guy with the world record’, even though I don’t have it. ‘That’s the guy in the Olympics’, even though I’ve never been to an Olympics.”
The main change in his life since the world championships has been the increased level of expectation among the fans.
“A lot of people are expecting me to win the 100, to win the 200, and I’m comfortable with that,” said Gay, who has set his sights on becoming the first man to win Olympic gold over both distances since compatriot Carl Lewis in 1984.
“I believe if I have done it once, I can to do it again. I just have to stay humble, continue to work hard and don’t overdo it.”
For Gay to succeed in Beijing, he feels he has to banish memories of his three gold medals in Osaka.
“Those days are over with,” he said. “I need to focus on the Olympics because I have never been to the Olympics before, I have never trained for the Olympics before. As long as I stick to the plan, everything will work out okay.”
Gay has been sticking to the plan with former U.S. sprinter Jon Drummond, his advisor and mentor for the last two years.
However he was jolted a couple of weeks ago when Drummond said he needed to “step up” his work ethic.
Gay said: “He told me: ‘I don’t really see the hunger in your eyes like last year when you were studying more, you were learning more. Understand you don’t have any Olympic medals, understand you haven’t done greatness yet until you win the Olympics.’
“That kind of bothered me a little bit because I thought I was training hard. I kind of got offended.”
A little bit of offence, coupled with his innate humility, could be the spur Gay needs to make Beijing success a reality.
Editing by Clare Fallon