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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Asafa Powell sets a new 100m world record - 9.74s

It came at the most unexpected of times. That is really just a euphemism for saying that it happened in a low-key, obscure meeting, in the absence of any major competition, and must be one of the least exciting world records ever, but Asafa Powell has broken his own (shared) world record in the 100m.

It happened in the qualifying heats of a one-day meet in Rieti, Italy. Powell, who finished a very disappointing third at the IAAF World Champs last week, chose to run this meeting rather than the IAAF Golden League meet in Zurich on Friday night, and promptly knocked 0.03s off his time, running 9.74 secs.

In terms of times, Powell now has three clockings of 9.77secs and this one of 9.74secs, giving him a pretty good case for "fastest man in the world" honours (Maurcie Greene has a very valid argument for being the best ever in terms of times - he has more of the times in the top 100 than anyone else, but for absolute speed, Powell has cracked 9.8s four times...)

The problem for Powell, however, is that every time he goes out and performs like this, the dissenter's voices actually get louder and louder. Because a man who has broken 9.80 on four occasions should have a world or Olympic title to his credit by now. Yet Powell has a solitary bronze medal, and a 5th at the Olympics, for all his obvious speed. Labels of "choker" become more and more difficult to shake when he proves to the world what he actually is capable of! So he finds himself in a strange, cruel Catch 22, where the faster he runs in these races, the more he 'discredits' his championship performances. Still, he's confirmed his status as one of the major drawcards of the sport, but like Gay, there is a piece missing from his 'jigsaw' puzzle, and it's a gold medal. In Gay's case, of course, the medals are there and it's times he will be after.

Powell will have to work hard to turn around the label of "choker". He himself confessed after his defeat in the 100m last week that he had panicked during that race after getting a great start, a comment that Carl Lewis openly criticised, saying that "you never admit it, even if it's true". Michael Johnson was also critical of Powell's big race abilities, saying that he needed to admit to himself that he has a problem in those big races. So he's certainly attracted some attention, both good and bad. His problem, to be very brief, is that under pressure, he seems to tie up, unable to deal with a runner coming up along side him. Powell's legacy may therefore be that is the fastest ever "time-triallist", the greatest at running against the clock, but not so good when a warm-body comes up against him! Only time will tell.

What really needs to happen now is that he should race Tyson Gay again and see if he really has learned from Osaka (as he claims in this AP article). Even if that happens, though, we will have to wait until Beijing to discover whether Powell is really capable of handling the pressure of a real race.

In terms of Gay, he'll now have to put up with continued debate around whether he is the fastest man in the world - yes, he beat Powell comprehensively in the 100m Final, but now Powell has re-ignited the argument and it will be fantastic to see how Gay responds. That Beijing race, assuming they both feature, will be a classic. There is talk of them racing in Brussels of Friday, but again, I'm not sure how much can be read into that after the frantic racing schedule Gay has had recently.

Still, the first world record on the track this year, just a shame it came under such 'anonymous' circumstances.



Lei said...

That's really interesting. You'd think people get more excited and perform better during major races like the Olympics?

Albert Caruana said...

I believe if you look at Powell's four fastest times, they all took place with absolutely no competition and with him seemingly easing up at the finish line.

The title of world's fastest man can go to either a) the world champion or b) the world record holder. If you base that title purely on time, then Powell is clearly the one. I am sure Powell would gladly give up the WR for one of Tyson Gay's golds.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hey Lei and Albert

To respond, Lei, yes you would think so, but sprinting is so much about relaxation that you can eventually go beyond what they often call "optimal level of arousal" and then you start tightening up. So too little arousal is bad, too much is bad too, and I feel Powell just can't handle that level of pressure. Michael Johnson, the 400m runner, has said that POwell needs to acknoweldge that he's not a big pressure runner, and then he can deal with it. But, yes, Powell goes the wrong way in the big races.

And then Albert, I agree 100%. That's why I've suggested that his legacy might be as the world's fastest ever time-triallist! And the funny thing for Powell is that the faster he runs in these "nothing" races, the more he's actually building the legend that he can't handle the pressure! So he's really in a tricky catch 22. The only way out is to run 9.73 at the Beijing Olympics next year! Time will tell!

To me though, the 100m event is all about racing, and so my vote for current number 1 is Gay. That's not to say Powell is not a great - to run sub 9.80 four times is remarkable - remember that only 1 other guy has done this (legally), and that was Maurice Greene. So he's clearly a great, but he needs a gold medal...

Thanks again!

adryane rock said...

Asafa Powell is one of the greatest sprinters in the world based on his world records times.. Running 4 times below 9.80 was fantastic performances...Of course Asafa Powell are looking for the Gold medal in any Major meeting.. In others words he need at least one gold medal in Olympic or World World Championship so that we can consider him as a world champion or Olympic champion... and make himself among the greatest sprinter in the world based on performances, times and the titles... it was performed by Carl Lewis, Bailey, Greene, etc...

Looking foward any comments..

adryane rock said...

my correction... actually FIVE times running below 9.80sec not FOUR times... 9.74, 9.77, 9.77, 9.77, 9.78...

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hello Adryane

Thanks for the comments. I agree 100% with you. The problem for Powell is that his performances at these relatively obscure meetings only serve to highlight how fast and good he really is. This only amplifies his poor performances in the big championships. For a guy to come into an Olympic or World Champs with 5 times faster than 9.8 and get beaten easily is quite noticeable!!

So he should be winning gold, at least once, but can't seem to get it right on the day. But it's not just that he doesn't get it right - he really blows out badly - his performance this year in Osaka, having dominated the qualifying rounds and semi-final was nothing short of a choke. he admitted as much. So I agree - he needs a big gold medal to go alongside his collection of WR and times, otherwise, he'll be remembered as the fastest time-trial athlete ever.


adryane rock said...

Hey thanks Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas. To Lei,albert caruana, ross tucker and jonathan... i'm looking for anyone who have a good and various of experiences in track & field specially sprints event... hopes will get u all by replying my email at adryane_rock@hotmail.com sooner... will share our experience... thanks.