By Gene Cherry
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Former world sprint title holder Tyson Gay has a lofty goal in mind for August's global championships - three trips to the podium just like six years ago.
Completely fit for the first time since winning gold in the 100 and 200 meters and 4x100 relay at the 2007 worlds, Gay told Reuters he will run both sprints at next week's U.S. championships, then seek a spot on the relay team for Moscow.
"I want to do the double for sure," the 30-year-old Gay, American record holder in the short sprint, said in a telephone interview from his central Florida training base.
"I feel like I am actually able to and I always loved the 200," he said. "And I feel like I am healthy enough.
"I feel like it will prepare me for the worlds, and if I run the 200 that will give me more success for the 100."
Hamstring, groin and hip injuries, along with the emergence of Jamaican double world record holder Usain Bolt, have denied Gay an individual global title since his triple at the Osaka world championships.
But smart training and a more conservative running schedule have limited the injuries and made him the fastest 100 meters runner in the world this year.
No one, not even Bolt, has been quicker than the 9.86 seconds the slender American clocked at the Jamaican Invitational in Kingston in May.
His 19.79 seconds last month in the 200 also would equal Bolt's world leading time if it had not been wind assisted.
"It makes me feel good, but I am a little surprised," said Gay, noting Bolt and others have had more competitive races than his two 100 meters and one 200.
"I planned on racing a normal schedule but coach (Lance) Brauman wanted to take things slow this year. After New York we decided I had done enough to go on to the nationals," added Gay, who won in 10.02 seconds in the rain and cold in the Big Apple.
The U.S. championships in Des Moines, Iowa, which serve as the U.S. trials for the August 10-18 worlds in Moscow, begin on Thursday and run through Sunday. Even the softly-spoken Gay does not know what to expect of himself.
"One minute I want to run a super fast time," he said. "The next I want to play it smart and make the team and say the big dance is not until August."
The heartbreak of London 2012, where he missed his first individual Olympic medal by one hundredth of a second with a fourth-place finish, has subsided.
Time and the Americans' silver medal in the 4x100 relay helped as did the encouragement of friends and even strangers who made him realize how much he has accomplished in his career.
But he also finds it refreshing to be healthy again.
"I don't have to rush. I don't have that extra stress on me," Gay said of the multiple times in recent years he has had to go flat out in last-minute practice sessions after injuries in a bid to be ready for U.S. trials or global competition.
"It is the best I have looked in years," Gay said a leading U.S. biomechanics expert recently told him.
A brighter outlook on his own achievements and prospects has not lessened Gay's respect for Bolt and his world records.
"He is still going to be the man to beat regardless," said Gay, admiring the way the Jamaican bounced back from injury and defeat by training partner Yohan Blake at the island nation's 2012 Olympic trials to win the 100 and 200 in London.
"He turns around and looks like a totally different person," said Gay.
But the American believes he can be more competitive this year, and could even challenge his 2009 U.S. 100 meters record of 9.69 seconds, compared to Bolt's 9.58 world record.
"I think I can," said Gay who would have no problem with the world joining in a delayed celebration of his 31st birthday, which comes two days before the August 11 100 meters world final.
He will run his first race after the American trials in the 100 at Lausanne on July 4 and long-range plans are to continue competing through the 2016 Games in Rio where he hopes his elusive quest for an individual Olympic medal will finally end.
More immediately, there is a decision to be made about his appearance. Gay had an almost fuzzy look at May's New York Diamond League meet with his fuller beard and longer hair, the product, he said, of the amount of time devoted to training.
"I was training so hard... my hair grew out for several months and the beard grew out for several months," he said.
The look will not become permanent, though.
"It may come off tomorrow," Gay said. "I may want to be a little bit more aerodynamic for the trials," he added, recognizing how close a shave his loss to countryman Justin Gatlin was for a prized medal in London.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)