EUGENE, Ore. -- Tyson Gay tumbled to the ground at the start of his 200-meter quarterfinal heat Saturday at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials and had to be carted off the track.
Running in the seventh lane, Gay was speeding to the lead in the first turn, but on his 14th stride, something went wrong. He went airborne, fell, then laid on the ground in pain, grabbing his left thigh and grimacing.
Gay already had qualified for the Olympics in the 100 meters, but his availability for the Beijing Games obviously will be determined by the severity of his injury.
Though he's the defending world champion in the 200, trials rules call for the top three finishers to make the Olympic team -- no exceptions.
This could prove to be a stunning setback for the 25-year-old sprinter, who last week set the American record in the 100 at 9.77 seconds. In the finals, he ran a 9.68, the fastest time ever recorded, but it did not count as a world record because the tailwind was too strong.
Damein White, running in the lane next to Gay, said he saw Gay pull up and thought he saw something fly his way.
"I tried to keep going off the curve," White said. "It kind of threw me off. He just pulled something. He'll be right back. Next year, we've got worlds. You'll see him there."
More urgently, however, are the Olympics, where heats for the 100-meter dash start Aug. 15, and Gay was one of the favorites, along with world-record holder Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, both of Jamaica.
Members of the U.S. track team are expected to leave for the Games about 10 to 14 days before their event starts. Gay also was committed for a meet in London on July 25, and was considering running in a couple of other events in Europe before the Olympics.
The injury potentially would open up another spot in the 200, where Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Xavier Carter, Shawn Crawford and Walter Dix were considered among the top runners going for only three spots.
"It doesn't really change things on my part," Carter said. "Tyson's a great runner. He's No. 1. Everybody was shooting for him. I'm not going to change anything because he got hurt. I've got to continue doing what I was doing as if he wasn't hurt."
Indeed, the 200 semifinals were set for later Saturday afternoon, and they would go on without Gay.
If the injury is serious, it would be a blow for U.S. track. Gay was considered one of the fresh, young faces of a sport that has endured unrelenting doping problems the past several years. Many were hoping to turn the page this season, and they were hoping Gay, a bit shy, but successful, would be a big part of that.
"He's a champion," said Rodney Martin, who won the heat after Gay fell. "He'll recover. He'll recover."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press