Justin Gatlin is coming back from a doping ban to prove he is a legitimate champion. Tyson Gay wants to see if he can overcome a hip injury. And Bryshon Nellum was shot three times in the legs.
But all three have taken their comeback tales to an Olympian level by qualifying for the London Olympics at the US Track and Field Trials, Gatlin and Gay in the men's 100 meters and Nellum by finishing third in the men's 400.
Gatlin won 2004 Olympic 100m gold but could not defend his title at Beijing while serving a four-year doping ban, but at age 30 ran a personal best of 9.80 to win Sunday's 100m trials final, .05 under his Olympic winning time in 2004.
"The race was a blur," Gatlin said. "I knew getting out of the blocks was crucial. The middle phase had to be flawless and I had to have good technique to get to the line."
Restoring his reputation after his doping ban has been an even harder run.
"I've heard a lot of words over the past year or so -- my road, redemption, my journey," Gatlin said. "I was just sticking to what I know -- being a fast runner, breaking it down to its simplest form and just competing.
"I have been through some dark past. What has kept me going is the faith of my fans knowing I am a legitimate athlete. I've been tested multiple times since I have been back. I'm a clean athlete. I'm focused on that."
Gay, who was second in 9.86, had returned only two weeks earlier from right hip surgery last year.
"I couldn't even jog until March," he said. "I had a lot of doubts. It was just a thing I had to go through. It definitely held up. I had two physios here to help get me through the rounds. The plan worked. It held up pretty well."
Now Gay, whose 30th birthday on August 9 is four days after the Olympic 100 final, is confident heading to London.
"I feel real good about my chances," he said. "Stay healthy, that's the main thing right now."
Nellum was shot after a 2008 college party by gang members who mistook him for a rival.
"It's crazy because I never did fall to the ground. I kept going, just to run to safety," he said. "I hopped and skipped on one leg to safety. And ever since then I've just been recovering."
Nellum feared he might never walk again, much less run in the Olympics. But after three surgeries, the most recent on his left hamstring last August, he ran a personal best of 44.80 to qualify for London.
"What doesn't break you makes you stronger," Nellum said. "I just feel like whatever happened, it happened for a reason and now I'm just trying to be a better person and be a better athlete. I think this all just made me stronger.
"This is a dream come true."
Gatlin has lived the golden dream and the doping nightmare and prefers to leave both behind him for now.
"I've no chip on my shoulder or vendetta. It's not about judging myself," Gatlin said. "Right now I'm focused on what's in front of me."
That is the London Olympics and a 100m showdown with the man who replaced him as Olympic champion in 2008, world record-holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica.
"He's a great runner and a great talent," Gatlin said. "I'm ready for London. If that guy is out there I'm going to just prepare to race against him as well."