The United States, the University of Arkansas and Lafayette High School will be pulling for Tyson Gay in the Beijing Olympics. So will Kentuckians and Lexingtonians.
Especially those who grew up with Gay in the Winburn and Willow Oak areas of Lexington.
Gay, who set the American record (9.77 seconds) and ran a wind-aided but fastest-ever under any conditions 9.68 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, is scheduled to run the 100 meters and the 4-by-100 relay at Beijing.
He'll be competing for the first time since straining his left hamstring during last month's 200-meter quarterfinals at the U.S. Trials.
He is the reigning world champion in the 100, 200 and the relay. At 25, Gay is a millionaire, but otherwise not much different from his days at Mary Todd Elementary and Jessie Clark Middle schools.
“He's the same person, the Tyson Gay who likes to hang out,” said Derrick Crump, a Mary Todd classmate who does hang out when Gay visits home. “He hasn't changed. Because money doesn't make him. He runs track because he loves it.”
Gay described himself last year as “just a country boy from Lexington, Kentucky, who loves to run track.”
And, no, it's not an act.
Everyone from U.S. men's head coach Bubba Thornton to competitors to news media marveled at Gay's demeanor after his mind-boggling 9.68 race at Eugene, Ore.
Humble. Classy. Laid- back. The Tyson we've always known.
Crump lives in Columbus, Ohio, but still considers Lexington home. He stays in touch with Gay by phone. Last time they got together, they succumbed to one of Gay's few vices – fast food — and also ate at a steakhouse.
Brian Meades, who lived around the corner from Gay in the Willow Oak subdivision, also keeps tabs by phone and e-mail, then connects when Gay visits town.
“Me and him both have daughters. Actually, (we) spend time with our daughters. He does everything from shopping to just little stuff ... when he's in Lexington,” Meades said. “He's so anxious to see his daughter (Trinity) and family that we kind of keep it in a tight, little circle of friends and stay real close with our families because the time here is so brief.”
Besides Trinity, 7, Gay's must-always visits while in Lexington are to his grandparents and his sister, Tiffany.
Gay often is recognized in Europe and Asia, where track and field is more popular. At home, though, that role sometimes is reversed when he spots a familiar face on the street.
“He'll go up and speak to them before they'll come and speak to him,” Crump said. “He's just that type of guy. ... He has a very, very big heart.”
Crump's father once asked Crump to call Gay because a high school girl he knew of was feeling down and having second thoughts about continuing on her track team.
“So I called Tyson and asked him to give the young lady a call,” Crump said. “And within 24 hours, Tyson had contacted the young lady and lifted her spirits. Now she's back, excited about running track and everything.”
Meades laughs at what has become a “real surreal” part of his relationship with a world champion.
He often is asked to relay messages from friends who know he'll be talking any day with Gay. And Gay is always anxious to catch up on Lexington scuttlebutt.
Meades describes his fast friend as “more down to earth than us that go to work every day. It's almost like he's treating this like he knew it was going to happen, and ‘I'm going to act like I've got some sense now that I've got what I want.' He's a great track star, but he's an even better person.”
As for boasts about who's the World's Fastest Man, the world champion is mum. Meades is not.
“It's kind of a role reversal,” Meades said. “I guess because I'm the friend I'm supposed to be the excited one and jumping up and down. And he's more of, ‘Yeah, I went out there and I did what I had to do, came out on top. It was a tough race.' ...
“And I'm like, ‘C'mon, man! You just won the biggest race of your life,'” Meades said with a chuckle. “But I totally understand why he does it, though. Because that's just his character. We can't try to make him be something that he is not.”
But everyone can have fun bragging for him.