Nearly a year ago, Tyson Gay was undergoing surgery on his right hip, wondering if there was any way he would be ready for the London Olympics.
Three months ago, the sprinter could train only on grass because the pounding from the track aggravated his hip. Two weeks ago, he ran his first competitive race and felt a twinge of soreness the next day.
In the days leading to the Olympic trials, he climbed out of bed with only a little tightness.
To him, that's as good as it's going to get.
Now he heads into the 100 meters this weekend at the trials with this thought: He's healthy enough to make it back to the Olympics.
"I'm feeling fast," said Gay, who easily won his first-round heat on a cool and damp Saturday. "And physically, I'm OK. Everybody is feeling something. I think I'm just living with that right now."
Four or five years ago, before Usain Bolt burst onto the scene, Gay was touted as the favorite for the Beijing Olympics, the man to beat in track and field. These days, he is the sport's biggest question mark.
Gay said his performance at a "B'' meet this month in New York gave him all the confidence he needed. In that race, Gay finished in 10.00 seconds while running into a headwind. It was basically the equivalent of the time that Jamaica's Yohan Blake, one of the favorites heading into London, ran later that day in the marquee event.
"Everything went well," Gay said.
Just as he expected.
Gay has been stepping up his training in practice, too. And while his hip hasn't exactly felt miraculously better, he's at least now to the point where he thinks he can handle the grind of a long meet.
"I'm still waiting for the moment when I wake up and don't feel anything," said Gay, who turns 30 in August. "A lot of people know I'm a fighter. It would be great if I make it. I've been through so much."
His plan at trials is simple: Get through the first round Saturday expending as little energy as possible and then head straight to the trainer's table. He's going to rely on a team of trainers and a few ice baths to make sure he's able to answer the bell for the semifinals Sunday and then — if everything goes according to the script — the final, which are 2 hours, 18 minutes after the semis.
"Then I'll let it all hang out in the final," Gay said.
Gay realizes there are lots of people counting him out. This is a deep field and includes Olympic bronze medal winner Walter Dix, '04 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin, '09 national champion Mike Rodgers and savvy veteran Doc Patton.
"These guys are not going to sit down and let me come back after a year and give it to me easy," Gay said.
No, they're not.
But they also respect Gay, who's the American record holder in the event. If he's on the track, he has their attention.
"We all know he's a good runner," Gatlin said. "It's just this: Will he be able to run through the rounds, especially as each one becomes more and more competitive?"
Gay's wondering the same thing. He's simulated running rounds in Dallas under the direction of one of his coaches, Jon Drummond. Gay sprinted 60 meters, closely followed by another 80-meter jaunt.
Then, he repeated the process over and over.
"When I was supposed to be done, when I was tired, tired of running, Drummond was like, 'Give me one more 60. This is the final,'" Gay recounted. "We tried to replicate complete fatigue, how you're going to feel in the final. I want to run fast. I'm going try to do it."
There's another mental hurdle to clear besides his hip — Hayward Field.
It was on this track four years ago when Gay crumbled in pain during the first 40 meters of his 200-meter qualifying race. He had to be carted off with a mild muscle strain in the back of his left leg.
Last summer, Gay pulled out of the 100 at Hayward Field because of his nagging hip, which eventually led to season-ending surgery.
"I have exciting memories at this track, because it's fast," said Gay, who isn't planning on competing in the 200. "I don't really think about 2008."
Yet he does think about catching Bolt.
Maybe not a lot yet — he has to make the team first — but he may should he earn a spot. He's one of the few able to keep up with the world-record holder in recent years — or as much as anyone can at least.
Gay feels he missed a great opportunity in Beijing — he wasn't at his best as he struggled with the injury from the trials. He didn't qualify for the final against Bolt when the Jamaican broke the world mark.
"It was amazing, watching that guy put on that kind of performance," Gay said.
Asked how much competing in London would mean to him, given all he's been through, Gay whispered, "Everything."
"It means a lot more, when you have to struggle, breathing heavy in training, you're sore and coming back from injury — it makes it so much better," Gay said. "If you're like some robot, and can do anything and everything, it's not as sweet."