Tyson Gay called the race sloppy.

Those who have to run against him probably feel much differently.

With a helping wind at his back, America's top sprinter ran his 100-meter preliminary heat at the U.S. championships in 9.75 seconds Thursday, then just as quickly exited the stage, leaving the track world to wonder about what he might do next.

"Phenomenal. He always looks phenomenal," said Shawn Crawford, one of the half dozen or so sprinters not named Usain Bolt who might have a chance against Gay. "If he steps on the track, he's ready. That's a given. We know that."

But there will be no encore this week.

Already qualified for this summer's world championships thanks to his world title in 2007, Gay's plan was to run one heat and then shut it down. Mission accomplished. But even after the seventh-fastest time in history, regardless of conditions, he wasn't happy.

"It was a sloppy race," he said. "That lets me know there's more in the tank, I think a lot faster than that. The key to my race is my start. I just wasn't technically sound."

Gay used this single race at nationals as little more than a glorified workout. Because of the wind, the 9.75 won't go down as the new American record, even though this was .02 seconds faster than the mark he set last year on the same track.

Combine his latest race with the 19.58 he clocked in the 200 in May in New York _ only the third sub-19.6 ever in that event _ and it's clear Gay is over whatever ailed him last year when an injury in the 200 at Olympic trials, also on the same track in Eugene, derailed his season.

Was he trying to send a message to Bolt?

"Not necessarily to anybody in particular, but more for myself," he said. "I knew it was wind-aided, so of course it doesn't go into the books. But at the same time, it still lets me know that my legs are ready to turn over faster. They're a lot faster when I execute the beginning part."

Before Gay's run, the women took to the track and everything went to form, with Allyson Felix, Muna Lee, Lauryn Williams, Carmelita Jeter and Torri Edwards all advancing to Friday's 100-meter semifinals.

Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt cruised to a win in 45.23 seconds in his 400 prelim, which was missing Jeremy Wariner, who also has a bye into worlds. Wariner will run in the 200 later this week.

Sanya Richards (400) and Lopez Lomong and Alan Webb (1,500) were among the other big names who advanced easily.

Stephanie Brown Trafton added a national title to the Olympic gold medal she won last year in discus. Amy Yoder Begley outkicked Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan at the end of the women's 10,000 for a mild upset and Galen Rupp, a University of Oregon hometown favorite, blew away Dathan Ritzenhein over the last 600 meters for a 6-second victory in the men's 10,000.

Bernard Lagat, the 2007 champion in the 1,500 and 5,000, ran a qualifying heat in the 800 but, like Gay, was using this only for training work and won't run again this week.

Gay will leave Eugene with a 9.75-second body of work that included a clumsy move out of the blocks. Moments before the race started, a false start left everyone in the field one flinch away from being disqualified.

"So I had too much going through my mind, instead of worrying about execution," he said. "When I got out of the blocks, I felt sloppy, felt someone beside me. I think it was Leroy Dixon, who was winning until about 60. Then I caught up with the field and tried to run relaxed through the finish line."

Gay beat Dixon by .25 seconds and second-place finisher Monzavous Edwards by .23.

The 2007 world champion said if it had been up to him, he'd race again this week. But there are coaches and agents and schedules to keep, and it appears his team was satisfied with simply seeing him shake out the cobwebs.

The semifinals should still offer some drama, though. Crawford and Walter Dix and 60-meter indoor champion Michael Rodgers all moved onto Friday with ease.

They're all vying for a national championship.

Gay was seeking something else, and though his time said he got it, he left feeling otherwise.

"It felt horrible," he said. "I'm learning and coming through this so I know I feel when I'm hitting the right spots and when I know I have the right rhythm."