Eugene: Tyson Gay`s pursuit of Usain Bolt heats up this week as Gay battles his US sprint rivals for a chance to take on the Jamaican star at the athletics World Championships.
Gay has signalled his intention of reclaiming the 100m world title with the fastest 100m in the world this year.
But before an eagerly anticipated showdown can occur at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Gay must book his place on the US team at the national championships and world trials that start here on Thursday.
Gay has been plagued by injuries since winning the 100m and 200m world titles in Osaka in 2007.
He missed out on the Olympic final in Beijing the following year and pulled out of the 200m after taking 100m silver behind Bolt at the World Championships in Berlin two years ago.
Gay has already narrowed his focus for the season, saying that he expected to compete in just the 100m at the US championships.
His 9.79sec, run in a small meeting in Cleremont, Florida, on June 4, is the fastest in the world this year.
But half a dozen other US men have run 10.0 or faster.
In the Diamond League meeting on Eugene`s Hayward Field track on June 4, Mike Rodgers clocked a personal best of 9.85 to finish second to Jamaican Steve Mullings.
Darvis Patton was fourth in 9.94 and former world and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin sixth in 9.97.
University of Oklahoma student Rakieem Salaam clocked 9.97 at the NCAA collegiate championships, and Olympic bronze medallist Walter Dix won in Daegu in 10.0 in May.
Gatlin is on the comeback trail after serving a doping ban. His appearance at the Prefontaine Classic was his first in a Diamond League meeting, but even then he was looking toward the US trials and the top-three finish he`ll need to book a world berth.
In Gay`s only other 100m so far this season, he was second to Mullings in a photo-finish at the New York Diamond League meeting, both clocking 10.26 in damp, chilly weather with a significant headwind.
In a race delayed by three false-starts Gay was noticeably slow out of the blocks. He was confident he could improve.
"I still have a positive mind frame that once I put everything together, I know it`s going to be pretty good," he said.
The stringent US qualifying system, based on performance at the trials, makes for a high pressure meeting.
Even those who have IAAF byes as reigning world champions must compete in at least one heat of some event to secure their places on the team.
Allyson Felix, the three-time 200m world champion, is expected to race in the 400m to keep her option of a 200m-400m double bid in Daegu open.
Felix has the fastest 400m in the world this season at 49.81sec, but will face stiff competition from 2009 world champion Sanya Richards-Ross and 2010 indoor world champion Debbie Dunn.
Decathlon world champion Trey Hardee will be entered in the long jump and 110m hurdles, leaving the decathlon to 2008 Olympic champion Bryan Clay and indoor world record-holder Ashton Eaton.
Among the athletes looking to secure their world championships berths, Stephanie Brown-Trafton is keen to add a world title to her 2008 Olympic discus gold medal.
"I`ve got my Olympic medal, now I`ve got to get my first World Championships medal," Brown-Trafton said. "Most people do it the other way around."
Veteran Bernard Lagat will be seeking a 5,000m berth, sidestepping an attempt at 1,500m, having recorded double gold in the events at the 2007 edition and minor medals in the same races at the 2009 renewal.
"Just one event for the Worlds," said the 36-year-old Kenyan-born star, who won Olympic bronze in the 1500m way back in 2000 when competing for Kenya. "But first I`ve got to make the team."