Tyson Gay and Steve Mullings: Fast friends focused on being best
Training partners with fastest times in world to square off in adidas Grand Prix 100m
By Joe Battaglia,
8th June 2011
NEW YORK -- As Tyson Gay posed for pictures in the sweltering heat outside the Omega boutique, a man maneuvering around the throng gathered on Fifth Avenue, shouted out some words of encouragement.
"Hey Tyson, beat Usain Bolt. You go beat that guy," the man yelled.
While beating the Jamaican world record holder at the World Championships later this summer remains the big-picture goal, Bolt is the least of Gay's worries this weekend. He's focused on the guy he sees almost every day.
One of the marquee matchups of Saturday's Diamond League adidas Grand Prix will pit the American record holder against his training partner, red-hot Jamaican Steve Mullings in the men's 100m.
While it may come as a shock to some that the two fastest times in the world right now have come out of Lance Brauman's camp in Florida and not Glenn Mills' in Kingston, what many find even more surprising is the level of trust between Gay and Mullings, two men from adversarial sprint nations.
"Kelly-Ann Baptiste (sprinter from Trinidad & Tobago) asked me ‘Why do you genuinely help people, and tell them things that they never knew, and then they get better,'" Gay said. "I told her, ‘I don't care. I have faith in what I do and faith that God blessed me.' Just because I give out valuable information doesn't mean that I will be beat. I could be blessed in another way by helping someone out. That's just how I live my life."
Gay and Mullings have a long history. They met as teenagers when both attended Barton Community College in Kansas. In 2003, Mullings beat Gay by one-hundredth of a second for second place in the 100m at the JUCO championships. After both moved on to Division 1 schools, Mullings to Mississippi State and Gay to Arkansas, Mullings ran 10.15 to win the 100m at the SEC Championships. Gay finished second in 10.19.
But beyond rivals, the two have become fast friends.
"Steve Mullings is a unique individual," Gay said. "I've known him since he was 18. Me and him have a slight rivalry. I go to Steve's house every day. I'm actually his son's godfather. We have a different relationship."
One which extends onto the track.
After his eye-popping victory at the Pre Classic, Mullings credited his long talks and training sessions with Gay as part of the reason for his success to open this season. He said more than anything that Gay preached patience.
"I always rushed my first 30 meters," Mullings told Reuters. "Now I have more patience. I may not have the top end (speed) of Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt, but I am working on it."
It is an aspect of elite racing that Gay himself is still working on.
"The difference between me and Usain Bolt is it's taken me longer to grasp what I have to do in the 100m and the technique," Gay said. "He just got it quicker."
Gay has also helped Mullings with his confidence. Although he won a gold medal as a member of Jamaica's 4x100m relay at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, sprinters are measured predominantly by what they accomplish as individuals.
Until recently, Mullings has ranked behind Bolt, Asafa Powell, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter and even Yohan Blake in Jamaica's sprint pecking order. Since his 100m/200m double at the 2007 Worlds in Osaka, Gay has been top dog in the U.S.
"He has more confidence in me than he has in himself," Gay said of Mullings. "Lately, he's been getting more confidence in himself. I think that's why he showed excitement after the race (at Prefontaine Classsic). That's the first time I've seen him that excited. He PR'd and I don't think he ever thought he could run that fast. I told him he could even run 9.7, so now he's starting to believe it."
If Mullings starts ripping off 9.7s then Gay will have to live with the fact that he helped foster another sprinter whom the United States must try to overcome at the global championship meets.
But Gay said he wouldn't feel like U.S. sprinting's version of Benedict Arnold.
"I look at Steve as someone who is learning to work hard, as someone who is learning how to study his craft, who is watching me in practice, who I'm giving advice to, and it's helping his career," Gay said. "And I don't mind doing that. I look at him more as a training partner, someone who I went to school with, and a friend.
"I don't really look at Steve as a Jamaican. I know that's weird, but he's not really been in the limelight like that. Besides, he doesn't speak Patois around me that much either."