By his own stellar standards, Usain Bolt has had a relatively conservative season thus far as he heads towards the defence of the 100m and 200m titles he won at the last IAAF World Championships in Berlin. And this year one man is standing firmly between him and his ambition over the shorter distance – Jamaican friend and rival Asafa Powell, who heads this year’s world lists with his time of 9.78sec recorded at Lausanne on 30 June.
[Ed Note: 25-August - A nagging groin injury has forced Powell to withdraw from the 100m. Click here for a story.]
The only meeting this season between the two Jamaican friends and rivals took place at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Rome on 26 May, when Bolt won narrowly in 9.91 after getting a poor start. Powell was second in 9.93.
So Bolt still appears to have the competitive edge when push comes to shove. But one of the most interesting prospects at the forthcoming championships will be that of Powell in full pursuit of the global gold that has so far eluded him, nothwithstanding his World records.
Last season Powell started fast and pulled out prematurely with injury. This year he has also set the early pace, but appears to have held his physical condition together far more effectively.
On the eve of the Samsung Diamond League meeting in London earlier this month, the 28-year-old announced that he was “really confident”, adding: “I’ve really been thinking about the World Championships. I don’t have much time, and I don’t want to miss my chances again.”
Powell also told the pre-meeting press conference that he was in the best racing shape he had been in since 2005, when he set the first of his World 100m records with 9.77.
But within 24 hours Powell had pulled out of his Crystal Palace race as a precautionary measure following a problem which had emerged in his race at Budapest the previous week.
He said in a statement: “I have had some tightness in my groin since the race in Budapest. I had hoped that it would have cleared by now but it is still there. I am only focusing on Daegu. As much as I would love to run tonight, I just can’t risk anything with Daegu three weeks away.”
Powell's agent, Paul Doyle, said the groin problem had been improving but the athlete was still two or three days away from being fully fit.
The question of how well Powell, who won 100m bronze at the 2007 and 2009 World Championships, has rested and recovered will soon be evident.
That said, it will also be fascinating to see the challenge of the 21-year-old Jamaican who won the London event in Powell’s absence – Yohan Blake. Bolt’s younger training partner recorded 9.95sec at Crystal Palace to finish well clear of another Jamaican who will feature in Daegu, Nesta Carter.
But, given Blake was running into an headwind of 1.6 metres per second, that performance becomes even more impressive, as statisticians calculate that would be equivalent to 9.78 had he had the 1.0mps following wind in which Bolt and Powell have run their best times this year.
Bolt may stand top of the 2011 world lists at the longer distance thanks to his rainswept effort of 19.86 at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in Oslo on 9 June, but over 100 metres he is only sixth on this season’s list with his winning time of 9.88 in Monaco at the end of July.
The absence of another of his perennial rivals, Tyson Gay, will certainly make Bolt’s title defence in the short sprint easier. America’s former world 100 and 200m champion what is the second fastest 100m recorded this year when he ran 9.79sec at a small meeting at Clermont, Florida, but has since given up all thought of competing this season as he recovers from a hip operation.
The US brings national champion Walter Dix, who won the US title in a season’s best so far of 9.94, and former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, who returned to the track this season after a four-year suspension. Gatlin’s time as runner-up in the trials, 9.95, is his best so far this season.
But Bolt, who by his own admission is not in super-fast form right now, faces a group of rival sprinters who will all be hopeful of catching him out on the newly laid blue track at the Daegu stadium.
Powell has twice run faster times this season than Bolt has managed – he also won in Budapest on July 30 in 9.86.
And another of Bolt’s Jamaican colleagues stands above him in 2011 100m list – Michael Frater, who ran 9.88 in Lausanne.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF