Tyson Gay joked that his agent tricked him, promising a "low-key" race for his long-awaited return to competition, not the throng of TV cameras that greeted him at the Adidas Grand Prix on Saturday.
But the former world champion knew he needed the pressure of a big stage before he goes to the U.S. Olympic trials at the end of the month.
The 29-year-old Gay hadn't raced since hip surgery last July. He entered the "B'' 100 Saturday, finishing in 10.00 seconds running into a headwind, more than two hours before reigning world champion Yohan Blake won the "A'' heat in 9.90 seconds.
For Gay, success wasn't measured in numbers. He accomplished his goals: to sprint without pain and to "get all the jitters out."
Gay would have preferred entering a less high-profile event than a Diamond League meet in New York City. But he said coach Jon Drummond told him it was "better to get it out of the way than to go to trials and be really anxious and nervous."
Blake and countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 100, face their own stress heading into Jamaican trials. The country is so deep in the sprints, a berth at the London Games is hardly assured for either. Both were encouraged by their performances Saturday.
Blake was hampered by his customary slow start, but ran down Keston Bledman to stay undefeated this year.
"You have the confidence going into trials that you're invincible," Blake said of his unbeaten streak.
Even if he was a bit disappointed by the close call.
"I'm 'The Beast,' right?" he said of his nickname. "I don't expect anybody to be beside me."
Fraser-Pryce made a statement against a deep field, winning in a season's best 10.92. American Tianna Madison was second in a personal-best 10.97.
Reigning world champion Carmelita Jeter was third in 11.05, and U.S. teammate Allyson Felix, a three-time 200 world champ who is considering adding the 100 at trials, was fourth in 11.07.
"It was about getting everything right before national championships," Fraser-Pryce said.
Sanya Richards-Ross may have earned herself a second event at U.S. trials, winning the 200 in a world-leading and personal-best 22.09. The 2009 world champion in the 400, Richards-Ross was trying to convince her coach to let her run the 200, too.
Richards-Ross struggled in 2010 and '11, but after a strong performance in the 400 last week at the Prefontaine Classic, she's looking anew like a title contender.
"I'm really happy that my races are coming together again," she said. "I lost a bit of confidence last year, and I feel it coming back."
The 800 world champion, David Rudisha, came into the meet saying he wanted to run a time in the 1:42 range — which would have been an impressive feat two months before the Olympics considering his world record is 1:41.01.
The Kenyan proved just how dominant he is in the event, bettering his goal by running 1:41.74 to win by nearly 3 seconds.
"I felt good during the race and I decided to push a little bit," he said.
"Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius failed to post an Olympic qualifying time of 45.30 seconds in the 400, finishing in 46.14. The double-amputee from South Africa will likely have two more chances before the end of the month to meet the standard to earn a trip to the London Games.
After struggling recently with a sore hip and slow times, Pistorius saw major progress in his performance on a day the winner, Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, finished in 45.24.
"It's the first time I felt in shape to get back to 45," Pistorius said. "So now I'm sure I'll be able to do that."
After three false starts — the first two by indoor world champion Aries Merritt, knocking him out of the race — Jason Richardson won the 110 hurdles.
Richardson was an unlikely outdoor world champ last summer, bumped up to gold after Dayron Robles was disqualified for hitting Liu Xiang, the other huge name in the event.
Heading into the U.S. trials, Richardson has the confidence that he'll finish first in many big races to come.
"This year, I feel like I'm supposed to belong and belong on the team," he said. "As a whole, I'm having the ride of my life."
Gay may run in a small meet in Texas before trials. The American-record holder in the 100 won three gold medals at the 2007 world championships. But since then, he has been overtaken by Usain Bolt and beset by injuries.
The hip still bothers him, though he said Drummond hammers him about so many technical details, that distracts him from feeling the discomfort.
"It aches and pinches and grabs," Gay said. "But I've just got to go out there and run through the pain."