Duncan Mackay

The front cover of Sweden’s Sport Bladet paper carries a picture of a sprinter arriving in Stockholm  for his latest race. He’s wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans, with a denim men’s bag slung over his shoulder and a blue baseball cap set slightly back on his head.

Alongside his giant image are the words he uttered to the waiting world as he made his way through Arlanda airport: "What’s up? What’s up? What’s up?  I’m here."

Quiz question. Is this a) Usain Bolt or b) Tyson Gay?

For those of you who guessed a) - well yes, obviously. For those of you who guessed b) - I beg you, seek treatment.

The way these two outstanding athletes engage with the wider public is as contrasting as their sprinting techniques. And I can’t help feeling that the public dynamic works for Bolt in a way it doesn’t for Gay.

It is not simply that Gay, with a meek voice that puts you in mind of Michael Jackson, is an introvert and Bolt, affable and easy, is an extrovert.

Bolt, as he mentioned again this week at the press conference preceding the DN Galan Diamond League meeting in the Swedish capital, is a bit of a stay-at-home. He spends many hours at his house in Kingston playing PlayStation games either alone or with his younger brother. When he is on the athletics circuit, he heads not for the lobby, but the privacy of his room.

But where Bolt differs so dramatically from Gay is the way he responds to the clamour of attention once he has left that room.

The press conference, in a cramped space within the Nordic Sea Hotel, was a perfect case in point. Gay preceded Bolt into the cockpit of jostling cameramen, photographers and reporters, and for a few moments his eyes seemed to widen with apprehension.

"I’m pumped up a little bit right now," he said. Quietly. "The reality is hitting."

Asked how he liked running against Bolt, Gay responded: "I don’t know why you are all here, whether it’s for me or for him. But this is the first time this year I’ve got this attention, and I’m loving it. Even giving autographs outside the hotel. It’s great."

Well, he said he was loving it. But he didn’t act like he was loving it. Having said he would not be following the proposed course of going to a separate table to answer further press enquiries - his name-tag awaited him along with three bottles of still water - he looked as if he wanted to employ one of his famous smooth starts and get the hell out.

Bolt, naturally, revelled in the attention. Clearly he didn’t want to be all day answering questions, but his responses were immediately engaging and interesting. In sprinting terms, public appearances make Gay tighten up and bring a performance out of Bolt.

Gay (pictured) was asked a follow up question by the event compere about his apparent surprise at being noticed: "When you look in mirror, do you see yourself as a star?"

His reply was down-to-earth and instructive.

"This morning I saw that I needed a shave, so I got a shave," he said. "I guess I don’t look at myself like that  because my family don’t  treat me like that, if you know what I’m saying.

"Even though I’ve been here several times, every time I come back I’m still shocked to see that someone might want my autograph. It might sound naive, but I find it strange to think that people from another country should know me."

As a follow up, both men were invited to ask each other a question. Bolt asked Gay about his daughter - who it transpires is already starting at the track.

Gay’s question of Bolt was almost plaintive.

"I would like to know," he said, "how do you mentally prepare yourself, with all the excitement, before you go into a race?"

And the response said everything about the dynamic that has made Bolt into a figure who has transcended his sport.

"For me I kind of like it," he said. "I like the energy the crowd gives me, it helps me to relax, and it helps me to build up my motivation to get ready for the race."

It doesn’t mean that Bolt will win every race he runs. But it does mean that, whenever he goes to the line, he is able to access an enormous additional power. And that gives him another huge advantage along with his outrageous natural gifts.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames