Meeting Director Wilfried Meert succinctly summed up the stature of the guest star when opening today’s press conference ahead of tomorrow night’s finale of the ÅF Golden League 2008, the 32nd edition of the Memorial Van Damme meeting (Fri 5 Sep).
“I am pleased to introduce a loyal customer of the Memorial Van Damme meeting. Asafa Powell is a four time winner of this meet, no other sprinter, not even the great Carl Lewis has won here so many times.”
Later in the conference Powell was to repay the compliment.
“Brussels is one of my favourite tracks,” said the former World 100m record holder who sped to his personal best of 9.72 sec in Lausanne on Tuesday night (2 Sep).
“It is usually one of my first races after a championship each year, so I’m always very excited about coming here. There are a lot of people cheering and making a lot of noise. It is just wonderful being here.”
Powell will face Olympic 100m and 200m champion Usain Bolt, and World 100m and 200m title holder Tyson Gay in the King Baudouin Stadium tomorrow.
UPDATE 19:45hrs (GMT +2hrs) - Tyson Gay has informed the meeting organisers in the last few minutes that he will NOT run tomorrow, as he is not yet fully recovered from his hamstring injury, and does not want to risk further injury in the cold conditions forecast for Friday.
Against his opponents' illustrious championship pedigrees Powell can as yet only claim the relatively insignificant accolade of Commonwealth gold medallist. It was a subject on which much of the questioning dwelt.
“I don’t know how to explain (his form in Beijing), maybe I’m just a guy for the circuit. I just don’t know how to explain it,” said Powell.
“At the Olympics, I went back into the relay and ran really well, I said to myself ‘why didn’t I feel like that in the final (of the individual 100m)’. Perhaps it’s running the rounds (at a championships) where as on the circuit you are just running once on the track. That’s all I could come up with.”
To get it right in a championship I am going to have to not get injured. This year has been one of the roughest I have had in track and field with a lot of injuries…first there was a knee (injury), then the hamstring, then the groin and then the shoulder. But I still come back and ran really fast at the Olympics. So next year I just want to stay clear of injuries and then maybe I can manage the rounds.”
At the end of a season I’m always running fast
What about the predicted cold temperatures and possibly even light rain forecast?
“Conditions can affect the running but when you go there and get warmed-up, it shouldn’t really be a big problem…I’m not worried about risking injury. I just want to run fast here.”
“I’m going out there to put on a big show, to run really fast. This is one of my favourite meets and I’m confident I’m going to run fast tomorrow.”
“My tank is full of gas. I don’t think I have started using it (this season) so the gauge is still at full.”
“I amaze myself at times, at the end of a season I’m always running fast, breaking records and doing great things, so I can’t really explain it.”
“I asked my coach yesterday ‘why I’m running so fast at the end of the season’ and he said ‘there is a lot less pressure now so you can do whatever you want’.”
And that’s what it seems to come down to for Powell. He is cool, calm and relaxed when there is just cash on the line but add the allure of bright chunks of metal hanging on ribbons and he becomes 95% of the sprinter he is on the one-day circuit.
It's mainly between Usain and myself
What about tomorrow’s confrontation which will be the first time Bolt, Gay and himself have ever met together on the track?
Referring to his 9.72 PB race in Lausanne when he noticeably looked to his side at the clock as he approached the finish, Powell replied, “I’ll keep my head (facing) straight ahead at this meeting. 110 metres is what I’m going to be running at this meet!”
“I’m very excited about tomorrow. If I do what I’m really supposed to do, running against guys like this can only make me run faster.”
Is it just about you and Bolt?
“I’m not sure what shape Tyson is in at the moment. He didn’t do so well at the Olympics. But there are a lot of other guys out there though it’s mainly between Usain and myself.”
It is Usain’s last race of the season tomorrow. How important psychologically for you next year is it to beat him?
“If I go out and beat him I will know I’m in good shape. Psychologically it will really give me a boost, knowing what I have been through this year, and beating someone who has run 9.69, it will really build myself confidence for next year.”
Was Lausanne a perfect race?
“Definitely not, I can do a lot better. My coach said something to me, and so tomorrow I’m going out there to put it into play.”
What did he tell you to do?
“You’re going to just have to watch and see how I run.”
The 47,000 capacity audience awaits the race with high anticipation.
As Wilfried Meert concluded, tomorrow night’s clash of the big three of sprinting is a “once in a lifetime” race.
Chris Turner for the IAAF