Asafa Powell: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

Jamaican sprinters have been dominating sprint events for over a decade

Sprint events around the world have of late (and when I say late, I mean at least a decade) been subjects of utter Jamaican domination. Those laid back journeymen from the Caribbean have been travelling long distances to run short races and winning medals at different events as if it were some kind of unavoidable ritual with the culmination of their efforts on display once every four years at the hollowed Olympic games. National pride, global superstar status and rewriting the history books all at stake!

When it comes to sprinting and Jamaica, it automatically extends to the one man who has been responsible for the meteoric rise of the sprinting and co. stock in recent times, Usain Bolt. For years and years people will be talking about this man’s greatness and his historic triple-triple (if the Jamaican 4x100 m relay team manages to win gold on Saturday). If not, for years people will be talking about this man’s greatness and his historic eight gold medals from three Olympics.

Also read: Rio Olympics 2016: Usain Bolt wins 200m gold for the third time in his career

But wait, who am I kidding? Of course they’ll win and Bolt will get his long-awaited triple-triple! Bolt has however never been alone in the race to get Jamaica to the very top of the short distance running ladder. Having regularly produced champions like triple Olympic medallist Yohan Blake, affectionately known as the Beast, Jamaica’s path to becoming a superpower has always been in assured hands or rather legs! Blake grabbed one gold and two silvers at the London Olympics in 2012 and looked set to become the next big thing until injuries pegged him back. He’s back though and has done what he does best: hit the ground running!

Tough luck for Asafa Powell at the Olympics

The best and the beast will both be in action when the Jamaica team take the track for the 4x100m relay final on Saturday. But this race will be run with the help of another sprinter, one with the highest possible pedigree, a sprinter who was so prodigiously talented that he is still talked about as the best that there could have been. Asafa Powell.

Powell first burst into the sprinting scene in 2004 and was one of the favourites for a medal in the 100 metres at the Athens Games but only managed to finish fifth in the ultra-competitive final with a timing of 9.94 seconds. Following the Olympic disappointment, Powell immediately went about exorcising his demons, setting a new national record of 9.87 seconds in September of that year and breaking the 100m world record in Athens in 2005 with a blistering time of 9.77 seconds!

In the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, Asafa Powell had the fastest ever timing in a 100 metres race, 9.74 seconds set in 2007 and had held the record for more than three years running until it was broken by one Usain Bolt who clocked 9.72 seconds in May 2008. Then they ran the final race at the Olympics and while Bolt struck, fierce as never before, Asafa once again finished fifth.

Instead of a medal, Asafa added to his growing list of disappointments in major finals adding to failures at the 2004 Olympics and 2007 World Championships. There was some joy to be for Asafa though as he ran the anchor leg to lead Jamaica to the 4x100m relay gold with a world record timing of 37.10 seconds. Asafa’s split at 8.68 seconds remains to this day one of the fastest splits ever run in a 4x100m relay race.

The 2008 Olympic final of the 4x100 relay event

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London beckoned and brought with it a fresh shot at redemption. By 2012, Asafa Powell had become the most prolific sub 10.00-second sprinter in the history of the 100 metres race with around 90 sub 10 finishes to his name. He had also run a personal best of 9.72 seconds at the 2010 Bislett Games. With Usain Bolt not in the best form in the build-up to the games, this seemed to be the best chance for Asafa to finally claim his spot among the athletic fraternity’s absolute elite.

Unfortunately for the big Jamaican though, it was not to be and he finished an appalling last with a time of 11.99 seconds, pulling up after around 50 metres when he saw the race was lost. The pulling up was later attributed to a niggling groin injury but failed to convince the sprinter’s detractors.

The Beijing Crew: Asafa led Jamaica to the 4x100m gold!

Doping charges

Things hit rock bottom when in 2013, Powell was found guilty of doping, having tested positive for the banned stimulant Oxilofrine. He voluntarily withdrew from the World Athletics Championships in 2013 as a result of the doping charge and received an 18-month suspension in 2014. The suspension was however revoked after an appeal by Asafa to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but the damage had been done. Asafa never regained top form after this setback and could not qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics after only managing a 10.03 finish in the Jamaican trials.

At 33, in his fourth Olympics now and only running the team event, Asafa Powell is most certainly at the twilight of his career, one that promised so much but delivered so little. It is a pity that one of the most naturally gifted and elegant sprinters to have ever graced a running track only has one individual World Championship Bronze medal to show for his troubles.

Whatever be the case, some say it’s a lack of psychological strength while others cite lack of endurance, the only thing certain is that had Powell lived up to his potential, the world of sprinting the way we know it may never have been.

Asafa Powell will surely be giving his 100 percent when he finally gets to race for his country in Brazil in what is most certainly the last big race of an unfulfilled career. It only helps that he will have the best help available on Planet Earth at his disposal. He wants gold, he needs gold and we want to see him get it. Scant consolation though it may be for the man who has always been the bridesmaid but never the bride!

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Edited by Staff Editor
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