By John Leicester
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PARIS _ Offered a glass of water in a sweltering Parisian heat wave, Asafa Powell shook his head, preferring the risk of thirst.
Once bitten, twice shy: Having served a doping ban for ingesting a contaminated supplement, the former 100-meter world record-holder says he takes zero chances with what he eats and drinks.
At age 32, another enforced time-out could kill any hope Powell has of converting his speed into major championship gold that has always eluded him. His haul, not including relay gold medals with Jamaica, from three Olympic sprint finals and three world championships is two bronze medals, from the 2007 and 2009 worlds _ surely less than Powell’s undoubted talent deserves.
The world’s fastest human from June 2005 to May 2008 when Usain Bolt usurped and then completely overshadowed him, Powell sees himself as a still very speedy and dangerous underdog heading toward the world championships in August.
And that suits him just fine.
“Being under the radar, it’s always good, you know? The underdog. No one knows what to expect. You can just strike at any time,” Powell said before racing in Saturday’s Diamond League meeting in Paris shorn of Bolt, his Jamaica teammate out injured with a blocked joint in his left leg.
Truth be told, Powell is probably selling himself a bit short.
First, in May, and then again last week in winning the Jamaica trials, he twice ran a very respectable 9.84 seconds. That is faster than the 2015 best of Tyson Gay, back from a one-year doping suspension and heading to the worlds as U.S. champion.
It also is as quick as the 2015 and personal best of Trayvon Bromell, the 19-year-old who snapped at Gay’s heels at the U.S. championships last week. And, perhaps most importantly, it is far quicker than Bolt this year, who ran a lame 10.12 in April, way off his world-record 9.58 in 2009.
In fact, only Justin Gatlin has run faster than Powell this year, with 9.74 in May and 9.75 in June. If those times make Gatlin the favourite at the worlds in Beijing, then Powell cannot be far behind.
“For now, the older guys are still on top, and we’re running very fast,” Powell said. The younger generation of sprinters, “they’ll just have to wait their turn.”
But unlike Powell, 33-year-old Gatlin is only getting quicker with age. That and the four-year doping ban he served make the American’s detractors suspicious, and make him a subject Powell would rather avoid.
“It’s just a very uncomfortable topic to talk about, you know? I don’t like to get into it,” he said. “I just hope that he is doing what he is doing to the best of his ability and doing it honestly.”
Powell said his own ban was “very difficult” to come back from. The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced it to six months, from an initial 18 months, after he explained that the banned stimulant oxilofrine found in his urine came from a supplement. That experience is why Powell refused the water the organizer of the Paris meet offered him during a news conference on Thursday.
“I just don’t accept anything from anyone anymore,” Powell said later. “I’m just super careful.”
Powell believes Bolt’s struggles with injury and poor form are “just a phase” rather than the beginning of a permanent downward slope. But Powell also suggested that it might be smart of Bolt not to seek to defend his 100-meter title in Beijing.
“If he’s not 100 per cent,” he said, “then I think he should focus mainly on the relays or the 200, you know, because the 100 metres is going to be very difficult. But hopefully he can get back in shape and feel like his old self and try to do both races.”
But, really, Powell is most focused on himself.
“I’m out of the shadow,” he said, “and soon I’ll be into the light.”