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When did sprinters ever get so modest?

I still remember the day Maurice Greene pulled up the sleeve of his t-shirt to reveal his new tattoo - a lion with the letters G.O.A.T etched into its mane. G.O.A.T. stood for 'greatest of all time'.

The lion? "Because the lion's the king of the jungle, and I'm the king of the track".

His self-penned nickname was PhenoMonal, his registration plate MO GOLD.

So when Tyson Gay, Greene's heir as US 100m record-holder, tells the world's media that he deals with his pre-race nerves by calling his mother, the initial reaction is one of shock.

Gay might just be the most self-effacing American sprinter of all time.

A self-confessed "country boy" from Kentucky, he is wandering around Beijing with the wide-eyed delight of a man bewitched by the Olympic atmosphere.

He's been updating his Facebook page every day, Twittering from his mobile and making friends with a random water polo player called Moses in the athletes' canteen - "a really cool guy".

The other day, he was surprised to bump into basketball star Kobe Bryant in a US team gym.

"I went up to him and asked if I could have my picture taken with him," he says.

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"And he said to me, 'How's your injured leg doing?' I had to text my mum - 'Kobe asked about my leg!' She was shocked as well. It was just amazing."

For the record, Gay's leg - or more specifically the hamstring injury that threatened to rule him out of these Games - is "100%" healed.

It means that the most anticipated single race of these Olympics is on: Bolt, Powell and Gay, the three fastest men of all time, racing against each other over 100m for the first time.

As Gay says, in his slow-motion Kentucky drawl: "There's never been as much hype about a 100m dash as there is now.

"This is probably one of the hottest 100m in history. Asafa is looking good. Usain is running incredible times - he's lighting up the track.

"These two guys are doing things no-one has ever seen before, and I fall into the category of someone who can run 9.7 too.

"Having three guys who've run 9.7 seconds in the same race as well as two guys who've run 9.8 secs is amazing. As everyone knows, the world record used to be 9.9 and 9.8, but now we've got three men who can run 9.7, anything is possible.

"After four rounds you don't often see a world record time, but this time could be different."

With Gay in Beijing is Team Tyson - mother Daisy Gay Lowe, stepfather Tim and big sister Tiffany.

It's hard to overstate the influence of his family in Gay's rise from small-town southern kid to double world champion.

It was Tiffany, just 10 months older than him, who he used to race against as a child. She still claims that he's never beaten her.

Daisy, who worked at the Toyota factory in Lexington, used to make him run up hills after school to work on his speed and technique.

When he beat Powell to 100m gold at last summer's world championships in Osaka, mother and son sought each other out in the bowels of the stadium and cried in each others' arms.

When his hamstring went during the 200m at the US trials in May, Daisy and Tiffany were the first ones to his side, praying over his injured leg as he was stretchered off the track.

"I believe that I don't have to put on a self-image or a swagger just because I race the 100m dash," says Gay.

"It comes from the way I was raised. Sometimes when you're a child watching TV, you'll hear your mother say about someone, 'he's too cocky', and so then you know what not to be like."

The other big influence on Gay has been his coach, Lance Brauman, who he first worked with at Barton County Community College and then the University of Arkansas. Brauman, however, has had troubles of his own.

When Gay triumphed at the Worlds last summer, Brauman was locked up in Texarkana Federal Correction Institute after being convicted of embezzlement and mail fraud.

Gay was forced to train from notebooks that Brauman sent out from his prison cell.

This summer, Brauman is with his other star athlete - Jamaica's 200m gold medallist Veronica Campbell-Brown - meaning Gay is working with former 4x100m Olympic gold medallist Jon Drummond.

Drummond, ironically, was one of the US sprinters who posed like a bodybuilder and stripped down to the waist atop the podium at the Sydney Olympics. Greene was one of the others.

Even if Gay were to win Olympic gold on Saturday in a new world record time, it's not a celebration you can ever imagine him copying.

"This is the greatest experience of my life," he says. "When I first arrived here I walked around the village, and it was kind of amazing. Nothing compares to this.

"It was my 26th birthday on the 9 August, and at one minute past midnight they lit the Olympic flame. That was the best present I could ever hope for, right there."

Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist covering a wide range of events in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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