His current role in the Thoroughbred racing industry may be that of casual observer. But in the time Lexington native Tyson Gay spent at Keeneland Sunday afternoon, it became readily apparent the 2012 Olympic silver medalist could relate on a few levels to the four-legged athletes around him.
As one of the world’s leading track and field sprinters, Gay has endured many of the tribulations horsemen and their charges deal with on a regular basis – from the ailments that come with consistently training at the top level to participating in a sport that at times has come under scrutiny for its use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Another shared trait Gay discovered while visiting his hometown track, however, is that few revere their fleet-footed performers like Kentuckians. Before taking in a day of racing as Keeneland’s honored guest, Gay reflected on his multiple World Championship titles, his angst at finishing fourth in the 100 meter finals at the recent London Olympics, and why he feels there is still upside to his form at age 30.
“I don’t get to get home a lot and for me, to the meet the people who appreciate what I do, for people to recognize and respect what I do means a lot,” Gay said before holding a Q&A in the Keeneland paddock. “I just want to come out and enjoy the fans and give back to the people who have supported me my whole career.
“I’ve been doing this at a high level for a very long time, pretty much since I was a collegiate athlete. I’ve had two, three surgeries and not just small surgeries, so to keep on fighting at this level is very tough but you have to stay positive and keep pushing. And I’ve had some great fans and people form the hometown really supporting me.”
Gay reiterated Sunday he plans to stick around for another four years to compete in the Rio Olympics in 2016, a decision partially brought on by the fact he wasn’t in his peak form when trying to tackle Usain Bolt – winner of the 100 and 200 meters at the last two Olympic games. Gay – the top-ranked 100 meter runner in 2010 – cut his 2011 season short to have hip surgery and only returned to full-time training in late spring.
“I haven’t been healthy and I don’t like to have excuses, but it’s almost like having a fight with one hand tied behind your back,” Gay said. “But that’s the nature of the game. You try and train at a real high level and that means you’re going to risk injury, you’re going to have sore hamstrings and stuff like that, so the key to game is to be healthy and right now Usain Bolt is definitely healthy. He’s doing things the right way to stay healthy and if I can stay healthy, it will definitely be a fair fight between me and the other guys.”
Like Thoroughbred racing, track and field has also battled public perception when it comes to how clean its athletes are – a topic that was brought to light again when ESPN aired its 30 For 30 documentary this week about Ben Johnson and the 1988 100 meter final in Seoul.
Where racing has an unfortunate tendency to let its violators off with a glorified slap on the wrist, Gay says the harsh penalties track and field implements has likely helped weed some of those who are doping out of the sport.
“I mean I have to report to a drug tester and let them know that I came home for a day and that I’ll be here, I’ll be there…so anytime I leave anywhere, I have to report to them so they can come drug test me if I’m out of town,” Gay said. “From 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. I have to be at home every day. In that sense I think they’re doing a good job.
“As far as performance enhancing drugs and it being a part of the sport, I think it may always be a part of the sport. If you watched the 30 For 30 the other day, I think sometimes it comes from the fact that….it’s tough to survive if you’re not the top elite athletes and some people decide to take that route to make some extra money and to win some races. Those are just the small bumps in the road in our sport. It’s not fair, but at the same time you weed those people out eventually because we have real strict policies on doping. So a lot of peope are on the up and up now because if you get caught with one offense I think it’s like a two-year ban and the next time is a lifetime. So it’s pretty tough.”