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.