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Justin Gatlin reacts after winning the men's 100m finals at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Sunday, June 24, 2012, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Updated: Monday, 25 Jun 2012, 6:55 AM EDT
Published : Monday, 25 Jun 2012, 6:55 AM EDT
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Their comebacks far from complete, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay are on the right path.
For Gatlin, it's a journey back from a doping past.
And for Gay, it's a march toward full recovery after hip surgery nearly a year ago.
Gatlin and Gay just might be the best shots at chasing down Usain Bolt at the London Games. They showed they're rounding into top form in the 100-meter final at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday. Gatlin won in 9.80 seconds, and Gay was second — 0.06 seconds behind.
"These two can really encourage each other and motivate each other to take on that other little island out there who's been dominating America," said former hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, who represents Gatlin.
With their performances, Gatlin and Gay might have put Bolt and his Jamaican teammates on notice.
Or so they hope.
"I think he (Bolt) is a great talent and a great runner. I'm just glad to be back and in my top form," Gatlin said.
Before crouching into the blocks, Gay took a giant swig of water and then another.
The American record holder breathed deeply and cleared his mind — forgetting all about that surgically repaired right hip or that he really hasn't tested it out at top-end speed in more than a year.
All that mattered was this race before him.
And after flying down the track, not a trace of a limp in his step, this much was clear: The old Tyson Gay was back.
He was headed to London when a year ago that very notion looked improbable.
"Bittersweet. I always like to win. I came in second," Gay said. "But at the end of the day, it was about making the team. I got to make sure I turn this little bit of a frown into a happy face. For me to start training in March and make the team is a beautiful accomplishment."
Also joining Gatlin and Gay in London will be 23-year-old Ryan Bailey, who edged 2009 U.S. champion Mike Rodgers, Doc Patton and Walter Dix, the Olympic bronze medalist in Beijing.
Dix pulled up in the semifinals with a left hamstring injury and wasn't the same in the final. He's hoping to be ready for the 200 this week.
"Things like this happen. I really can't say much about it," Dix said.
The last time Gatlin was at the Olympics trials — eight years ago — he was a youngster about ready to become the next big thing in sprinting. He won gold at the 2004 Athens Games and a world title the following year, before his fall from grace.
He tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, leading to a four-year ban that prevented him from defending his title in Beijing.
Now 30, he's attempting to repair his tarnished image.
"Usually, I have a lot of words. I'm almost speechless," Gatlin said. "Everything just feels so surreal. I just let the heart really go out and do what it had to do.
"I wasn't too hyped, wasn't too calm. It felt just right and went out there and gave it my all. I have a lot more left in the tank."
How much faster can he go?
"Enough to win another gold," he said.
As expected, LaShawn Merritt cruised to the 400 title. So did Sanya Richards-Ross moments later in the women's race.
Both looked sharp with London right around the corner.
"I had to come out and run a smart race," said Merritt, the defending Olympic champion. "It was windy on the backstretch. It was about running smart. I came down the homestretch working on my form and wanting to finish up strong."
He did, too, finishing in a world-leading time of 44.12 seconds. Joining him on the squad were Tony McQuay and Southern California standout Bryshon Nellum, who has an incredible story: Making the team after being shot in the legs as he left a restaurant near campus following a Halloween party in 2008.
Noticeably missing from the 400 team was Jeremy Wariner, the silver medalist in Beijing and 2004 Olympic gold medal winner. He finished a distant sixth and won't be going to London, unless it's as a member of the relay team.
Wariner trudged off the track with his hands on his hips, refusing to stop and talk.
In other finals:
—Olympic silver medalist and American record holder Jenn Suhr won the pole vault. She beat Becky Holliday, who has funded her training over the years by working odd jobs as a server and a bagger at the airport.
—Reigning Olympic discus champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton easily earned a spot.
—Marquise Goodwin, a receiver at the University of Texas, won the long jump with a leap of 27 feet, 4 inches.
—Reese Hoffa led a solid cast of shot putters, winning the event with Ryan Whiting and Christian Cantwell also making the team. Cantwell captured silver in 2008.
"I think we have three really strong throwers. We always send a strong team," Hoffa said. "We have to get it done this time."
Following the men's 100, USA Track and Field announced how the third-place tie between training partners Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the women's 100 will be decided.
The scenarios involve either a coin toss or a runoff to determine the third and final spot on the team for the London Games.
If both athletes choose the same option, it
will determine the tiebreaker. If the athletes disagree, the tiebreaker will be a runoff. If both athletes decline a preference, the tiebreaker will be a coin toss.
Confusing? Bobby Kersee certainly thinks so.
The coach for both sprinters told The Associated Press they won't make any kind of decision until after they complete the 200 later this week. The final is Saturday.
Felix and Tarmoh finished in a dead heat for the last U.S. spot in the 100 to London, each leaning across the finish line in 11.068 seconds Saturday. One of them will join Carmelita Jeter and Tianna Madison, who are already on the team.
Kersee wants them to fully focus on the task at hand and not worry about a possible runoff — or a coin flip.
"Nine times out of 10, most athletes aren't going to want to flip a coin," Kersee said. "Would you go to the Super Bowl and after two overtimes or what have you, have the referees take both coaches to the middle of the field and say, 'We're going to flip to see who wins the Super Bowl?' I don't see that."