The rivalry was supposed to begin at the Beijing Olympics two years ago. Instead, it kicked into high gear Friday evening in Stockholm.
In their first meeting since last year's world championships, American Tyson Gay stunned world record holder Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash at the DN Galan meet in the Swedish capital. (Watch the clip here on Universal Sports.) It's the first major victory for Gay over Bolt in the event since the Jamaican shook the track world by setting a world record in May of 2008 and the first loss overall for Bolt in two years.
The final margin was almost as surprising as the order of finish: Gay crossed the tape in a 9.84 compared to a 9.97 for the three-time Olympic gold medalist. The American took advantage of Bolt's slowness out of the blocks in taking an early lead and then held him off down the stretch for an easy victory.
Before we get too excited about this and start making analogies to Ali-Frazier and Bird-Magic, there's two important factors to consider. First, this was a glorified exhibition. Both Bolt and Gay were paid for their participation in the meet (Bolt got a reported $250,000) and, while both run to win every time they step foot on the track, neither were as physically or mentally prepared as they'd be for a world championships or Olympics.
The other thing is, there was much more at stake in Stockholm for Gay than Bolt. The Jamaican is the king of sprinting. Nothing that happened today, short of a miraculous world record for Gay, was going to change that. Bolt didn't want to lose, but crossing in second changes nothing. Maybe it gives him a reason to train harder, who knows.
But Gay needed this. He had such a tough Olympics (he was injured during trials and failed to qualify for the finals of the 100) and has lived in the immense shadow of Bolt since then. Gay had to win, to send a message to Bolt that his dominance can't go on forever and, more importantly, to send a message to himself that it's possible to dethrone Bolt.
It's possible, but such a takeover can't happen unless the stakes are huge. The world track championships begin Aug. 27, 2011 in South Korea. Circle your calendars now.
Game on, Usain.