In the illustrious history of the men's 100-meter Olympic race, Carl Lewis is one of only two men ever to win consecutive gold medals and retain his status as the world's fastest man. And Lewis performed this feat back in 1988, when Ben Johnson actually crossed the finish line first but was later disqualified for doping. In other words, four years is a very, very long time over which to defend a title, and naturally, there is a window during which the rest of the world to break through (see: Michael Phelps).
Not since Lewis' performance in Seoul had the world seen a sprinter so dominant, until Usain Bolt came along four years ago, obliterating the world record in a blazing 9.58 seconds. Bolt was seen as inhuman, an almost impossible combination of size, strength and power.
Just as the Jamaican came to prominence in Beijing, famed American sprinter Tyson Gay severely injured his hamstring and was forced to exit the semifinals, failing to capitalize on his four years of rigorous training. Things would get worse for him from there. Anchoring the American 4 x 100-meter relay team, Gay and his unit failed to qualify for the finals, after Darvis Patton and Gay failed to pass the baton in their heat, something for which Gay took the blame at the time.
Then, just one year ago, he endured a significant hip surgery that once again threatened his competitive career. Gay has now returned for what he says is his final Olympics. And while Bolt has struggled to maintain his position as the planet's premier sprinter -- he did not retain his world title over the last year -- Gay says he feels healthy.
"My hip feels better than it did in Eugene," he told Sports Illustrated.com, referring to the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. "My whole body feels better."
At the trials, Gay -- now a veteran at 30 years old and still without an Olympic medal -- qualified after a mere six weeks of training.
Yet the harsh reality for Gay is that he must race in the fiercest era of sprinting history. Bolt and fellow Jamaicans Asafa Powell, who recorded the third-fastest 100-meter time ever, and Yohan Blake -- the current world champ -- are competing, along with fellow American Justin Gatlin, who won gold at the 2004 Games in Athens.
"Someone might run 9.85 and not even medal," former Olympic sprinter Mike McFarlane told Daily Mail UK.
For Gay, such a fate would be too familiar. But he is finally healthy, and after everything he's been through, that's a very good thing. August 5, the date of the 100m men's final, can't come soon enough.
That is, of course, if he qualifies.
NOTE: A previous edition of this post inaccurately listed Ben Johnson as an American.
Email me at email@example.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report.
Plus, check out my HuffPost sports blog, The Schultz Report, for a fresh and daily outlook on all things Olympics and listen to my radio spot on 1280 The Zone Friday afternoons at 1 ET. Also, tune in at 8:30am ET Thursday mornings on Memphis 56 Sports Radio, right here.
Follow Jordan Schultz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Schultz_Report