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Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt

Tyson Gay, who won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at last year's World Championships, races Usain "Lightning" Bolt in New York on Saturday.

Gay is the latest model to roll off the American sprinter production line and will go to Beijing with an excellent chance of becoming the 17th man from his country to win an Olympic gold in athletics' marquee event, the 100m.

The 25-year-old is 10 weeks away from the opportunity for greatness he has spent so long dreaming of and preparing for.

But then so is Bolt.

Four years younger than Gay, the tall Jamaican has been described by the sport's governing body as the "future of 200m running".

Already the world junior record holder for that distance, Bolt bagged a 200m silver behind Gay at the 2007 Worlds. He was also in the Jamaican relay team beaten by Gay's America.

Since then he has thrown down a 6'4"-sized marker in the shorter distance, a remarkable 9.76 seconds in Kingston - the second fastest legal time in history and, crucially, 0.08 quicker than Gay's best.

So Saturday in the Big Apple should be a big deal....shouldn't it?

If the amount of advance coverage it has received in the US is anything to go on, the answer to that question would be a resounding no.

Despite the prospect of Gay v Bolt, the chance to see female superstars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards in action, and no shortage of fine supporting acts from the US and abroad, the world's top athletics nation doesn't appear to care anymore.

And the reason for this sorry state of affairs is obvious.

On Thursday, only two days before the start of New York's Reebok Grand Prix, the country's track & field media was presented with a sticky logistical challenge: should we be on the West Coast for the end of the Trevor Graham trial, or should we be on the East Coast for Justin Gatlin's appeal against his most recent doping ban?

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As it happens, the stories dropped within an hour of each other. Graham, who coached Gatlin and a host of other athletes who have either admitted to taking drugs or been caught using them, was found guilty of lying about his relationship with a supplier of illegal performance-enhancing substances.

His trial produced fresh revelations of wrongdoing on the track and nobody - including the prosecution, who opted to use a self-confessed drug dealer and illegal immigrant as their main witness - came out of it looking good.

Gatlin, the man Gay would like to succeed as Olympic 100m champion, will have to wait until next Friday to find out if he has persuaded the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reduce his four-year ban for doping to a two-year ban.

I suppose an optimist would say it was an excellent day to bury bad news, so we should be grateful there was no third "runners on 'roids" story to cover. But in terms of public relations for the sport, it is difficult to imagine a worse day.

Oh hold on, I've just thought of one...that day last year when Marion Jones, another of Graham's athletes, admitted to lying about her years of cheating. The face of the Sydney Games, where she won five medals, was streaked with tears and heading to prison.

Less car crash TV but equally bruising to the sport's image was the spectacle earlier this month of Jones's former boyfriend Tim Montgomery (an ex-world 100m record holder...also coached by Graham) being jailed for 46 months for fraud and money-laundering. That stretch could get longer if he is found guilty of dealing heroin in July.

I could go on (I haven't really got into the meat of the Balco business yet) but I think you get the point. When it comes to athletics in the US (and let's be honest, if it's news there, it's news everywhere), there is only one story at the moment: drugs.

And when you're already fighting the heavyweights from the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL et al for coverage, the last thing you need is that in your corner.

Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live on Tuesday, retired sprinter Ato Boldon summed the situation up perfectly.

Boldon, who won four Olympic medals during a superb career, said: "The press in the United States swore off track and field a long time ago. If you see a track story on the news here, chances are it's a bad story.

"Unfortunately, track and field has died a horrible death here. The Ben Johnson thing hurt it and the Marion Jones thing certainly... well, if we were on life support before that was the end.

"So we taken some lethal hits - you can't even say they were body blows - over the past decade and the sport isn't on life support anymore.

"What's so unfortunate is that now you have one of the most talented groups of young, American athletes ever - guys like Allyson Felix, Tyson Gay, Sanya Richards and Jeremy Wariner - but nobody wants to pay attention because they're wondering when the next major bust is going to come."

Felix and Gay have actually volunteered for extra testing in a bid to convince the public of their sport's credibility. The state-of-the-art testing program, dubbed Project Believe, is run by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and it is certainly an admirable effort.

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But the worry for today's fastest men and women is that, as far as the man in the street is concerned, sprinting is as believable as wrestling - the pantomime variety, not the Olympic versions.

That is the real tragedy here, not Jones's crying on the courthouse steps - that was justice. The same applies to Graham.

It isn't easy to see where the sport goes from here but at least there are some in the game still willing to believe, still willing to run clean. And as long as that is the case there's still hope for the future. A thrilling race on Saturday wouldn't go amiss either.

Matt Slater is a BBC Sport journalist focusing on sports news. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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  • 1. At 7:42pm on 30 May 2008, Roberto Carlos Alvarez-Galloso wrote:

    I hope one day the sports world could find a way out of the doping crisis.

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  • 2. At 00:08am on 31 May 2008, Motherwell4 wrote:

    Anyone know if Pettigrew admitting to taking a banned substance will lead to the relay team getting the gold?

    Looking forward to the olympics will be interesting to see the knock on affects of the Balco affair and the affects on the American team.

    On the other hand can't see us doing well in the athletic arena. Hopefully sailing cycling and swimming will give us the medals. Would be great to see some success on the track. Mon the triahletes might be our best chance now with Paula injured (best wishes by the way)

    Anyone else have some thoughts on where our medals will come from? Boxing?

    Mon the brits. Mon the PBs. Mon the eric

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  • 3. At 9:02pm on 31 May 2008, TheRealRingo wrote:

    Athletics/Track and field here in the US has always been a once every four years sport ,regardless of any extra curricular stuff.

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