BERLIN - At first sight, the world championships are all about Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who seems to rake in Olympic gold medals and world records at will. This time though, Tyson Gay is in good shape, and the triple defending world champion has the year's best times to prove it.
That duel on the blue track of the Olympic Stadium also represents a bigger theme dominating the Aug. 15-23 championships: will Jamaica be able to maintain its stunning sprint domination over the United States, or will Gay and Allyson Felix, another triple world champion, re-establish the traditional U.S. domination?
The marquee battle gets underway immediately on Saturday morning with the opening heats in the men's 100 metres. The final is on Sunday night. The overall fight for supremacy won't be over until the next Saturday when the men's sprint relay finals finish.
After Bolt turned Beijing into a one-man show, Gay is healthy and ready after seeing his 2008 season ruined by a hamstring injury.
"Everyone knows last year, the big matchup - if that's what you want to call it - didn't happen. I'm really looking forward to it this year," said Gay, who won the 100 and 200 in Osaka, Japan, in 2007 and helped the U.S. team capture the relay gold.
Bolt injured his foot following a car crash early this year, which has affected his work on the bend in the 200. Gay has had a groin ache recently but says it will not bother him at the championships.
After Bolt set three world records in as many events in Beijing, there were expectations that he would be unrivaled for years to come. On this season's list of top times, however, he is second to Gay in both sprint distances.
Gay ran 9.77 in the 100 in Rome last month, compared to Bolt's 9.79 in Paris. In the 200, the American ran 19.58 in New York, just .01 faster than Bolt's time in Lausanne, Switzerland. That doesn't necessarily make Gay faster, since Bolt ran both races in the rain and into a wind, while Gay had a favourable breeze and good conditions.
Berlin though, will be the first time they face each other this year.
"I've always felt in my mind that I could challenge him," Gay said. "It's not like he's always been the world record-holder or he's always been the Olympic gold medallist. He's always been Usain Bolt to me. I've beaten him before, he's beaten me before."