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Jamaican sensation

Powell: hero to a nation, savior-in-waiting to a sport

Posted: Wednesday June 22, 2005 11:55AM; Updated: Wednesday June 22, 2005 4:21PM
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Asafa Powell
It wasn't known right away that Asafa Powell had broken a world record.
Getty Images

Jamaica is home to a great many exports: Marley's reggae, my loving parents and the relentless pursuit of more than one job. Last Tuesday, we added one more to the list: World's Fastest Man.

In 9.77 seconds, Asafa Powell went from Olympic letdown to national folkhero, besting American Tim Montgomery's world-record men's 100-meter time by .01 at last week's Grand Prix meet in Athens.

When Powell crossed the finish line at Olympic Stadium, the 9.78 readout on the nearby track clock had led the 22-year-old sprinter to believe he had at least tied Montgomery's three-year-old mark. But after taking a closer look at the time, track officials rounded down and ruled Powell the new world-record holder by a blink. "It feels great to be the fastest man in the world," Powell told reporters after becoming the first fourth non-American and first true yardy to shatter this cherished record. "I knew I could break the world record, and I'm very happy I succeeded." And after rolling out of bed, wiping the coal from my eyes and calling up this Web site on the laptop, well, so was I.

Funny that Powell's finest hour would come at the site of one of his worst. Rated among the top sprinters in the world last year, Powell loped to a disappointing fifth-place finish at last summer's Athens Games (9.94) while Americans Justin Gatlin (9.85) and Maurice Greene (9.87) raced to gold and bronze medals, respectively. Powell has tremendous respect for both men: He idolized Greene coming up and has found an able foil in Gatlin. A month ago, it was the Tennessee product who drew first blood in their only previous head-to-head meeting this season. Both ran a wind-aided 9.84 at the Prefontaine Classic, but Gatlin outleaned Powell at the tape to claim the center spot on the podium.

Still, Powell had reason to believe he'd get the better of Gatlin in their next face-off. A 9.85 time -- reached through the cold, wet Soviet air at the IAAF Golden Spike meet in the Czech Republic earlier this month -- had Powell feeling confident about returning to an Athens track that offers balmy temperatures and one of the fastest surfaces in the world. Greene would set the previous world record (9.97) on this very track six years ago before ceding it (in 2002) to Montgomery, who'd set a new mark in Paris. Montgomery was quick to congratulate Powell on breaking his old record, adding he was "shocked that [Powell] broke it so early in the season."

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