AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The races are a month away, yet U.S. Olympic men's track coach Bubba Thornton says the team he's leading to the Beijing Games could rank among the best. “Probably the strongest team we've ever sent to the Olympic Games,” Thornton said Thursday while reflecting on the wild U.S. Olympic trials that wrapped up last week. “I feel really good about this team.”
The trials produced a mixed bag of strong performances, upsets and suspenseful moments.
Tyson Gay, the defending world champion in the 100 and 200 meters, will go to the Olympics in the first event but not the second after a hamstring injury sent him tumbling to the track in 200 qualifying.
Defending Olympic champion and former “Mr. Invincible” in the 400 meters Jeremy Wariner lost in the final to LaShawn Merritt for the second time this year. One could look at Wariner as slipping or the U.S. just getting stronger.
Gay has said he'll be ready for the 100 and Thornton said he has no reason to doubt him. Thornton said he's checking on Gay's progress by staying in regular touch with Gay's personal coach Jon Drummond.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, Thornton suggested Gay's hamstring ranked no higher than a 3. Any sprinter should be taking at least a week off after the rigorous ordeal of a meet like the U.S. trials, so Gay shouldn't be hampered, Thornton said.
“I'm expecting him back when they say ‘to your marks.’ I have great confidence in the people around him,” Thornton said.
Even with his confidence in the team from top to bottom, Thornton didn't want to predict a medal haul for a country that typically dominates the track.
“My medal count goal is that at the end of the day, when 91,000 people leave that stadium, they've heard our national anthem so many times that they're humming it on their way out the door,” Thornton said.
The United States topped the track and field medal table at the 2004 Athens Olympics with a total of 25. That was the country's largest haul since taking home 30 medals from the track at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games.
Thornton, who is also the track coach at the University of Texas, acknowledged the U.S. team will have to make adjustments when competing in China, from travel, to culture to time changes.
He also knows athletes will be concerned about the air quality in Beijing, one of the world's most polluted cities. Thornton said they'll have to adjust.
“We've all been concerned about the air quality. They all know it is what it is. It's going to be a change and it might be a negative. How big of a negative do we want to let it be? How much do we want it to effect us?” Thornton said.
“I was over there for seven days last summer and I've been in (Los Angeles) when it was worse,” he said.