By Mike Hurst
IF Asafa Powell races in Australia this summer he would probably win Olympic gold in Beijing next year.
That’s the conclusion drawn by Canadian Charlie Francis, the coach who has had an influence on all five men who have run 9.7 seconds for 100 metres.
Francis, best known as the coach of Ben Johnson _ history’s first 9.8 and 9.7 performer _ has just completed a comprehensive analysis of Powell’s last five seasons.
He believes the big Jamaican’s failure to perform at his best in the world championships and Olympic Games is not because he’s a ``choker’’ but because he has mis-timed his run.
Powell’s preparation has had flaws, primarily to do with the period he spends progressing through various training phases and also with the number and scheduling of races.
Despite running a world record 9.77sec twice in 2006, Powell finished third (in 9.96sec) in the world 100m final in Osaka last month (August 26) _ then 14 days later in the sleepy Italian village of Rieti he ran a sizzling 9.74 in his heat, easing down 10metres from the finish.
``I think if Powell ran in the Australian summer series and then perhaps ran some indoor 60m races in Japan, that combo would be good,’’ Francis told The Daily Telegraph in an email.
``If he gets five to seven races in the February-March period, as he did at that time last year at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, it would lead to a shorter next build-up which would be better for him.
``He might follow a schedule where he’ll be ready for a maximum performance with a few less outdoor races.
``With an Australian competition period under his belt, Powell has a greater margin of safety if there is any sort of injury. He can get in the races he needs _ that may have been why he ended up short of competitions this year before the world championships.
``In any case he’s at the stage now _ and has been for a while _ where he does not need to `up’ the training volume.
``Powell’s problem is a timing issue.’’
By the time Powell had found top gear if anyone was running scared it was America’s Tyson Gay _ who won three gold medals at the world titles for 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.
Gay refused Golden League invitations to face Powell, admitting: ``I’m not really ready to race Asafa yet … I want to be fully healthy and focused. I don’t want to race him if he’s on his A game and I’m not.
``Like I told [Asafa] it’s about being 100 per cent. I’m not going to step up to the plate and race the world record holder when I’m not 100 per cent because right now he’s on fire.
``Next year when I’m running 9.7s it will be even more exciting.’’
Only if Powell is also running 9.7 when it really counts _ in the Olympic final, not two weeks too late.
Francis defended Powell against charges of choking brought against him by many experts and mostly recently by 200m and 400m world recordholder Michael Johnson.
``Asafa is an impressive athlete, having broken the world record twice already in his young career. But is he a champion? Not yet. Will he ever be? Doubtful!’’ wrote Johnson in his British newspaper column.
Francis disagrees, saying:
Sure he'll never win a big one if his management team doesn't recognise the clear performance pattern from his competition history and looks for a psychologist to answer a training question. But if they look at his competitive history and training and simply repeat it with the appropriate number of lead-up races before Beijing _ he’ll win.
``Asafa set a world record at race 18 in 2006 and at race 18 in 2007 with a similarly lengthy build-up period.
``With a shorter spread between competition periods, he’s done it with 11 races. The performance pattern is there for anyone to see. No need to re-invent the wheel. Just repeat it at the right time!’’
To avoid straying too far away from race-specific speed and movement patterns, Powell should build a number of short competition periods into his annual program.
That would serve too purposes: help him avoid injuries associated with finding speed after doing too much longer and slower training; and help him chalk up the 18 races he seems to need to dial up a world record.
Brilliant young French coach Pierre-Jean Vazel _ the personal coach of world championship 100 fourth-placer Olusoji Fasuba _ also debunks the notion that Powell is psychologically puny.
``In the three years Asafa had a major champs race (2003, 2004 and 2005), he did his season best in the very next competition, about 12-14 days after,’’ Vazel told The Telegraph by email.
``This is not a mental problem, this man is tough to overcome humiliation from Osaka to break the WR at his very next race.
``Confidence comes from preparation, and this is where the problem lies for Asafa, more precisely enough races pre- champs and proper warm-up in order to not peak too late.
``He couldn’t respond to Tyson in the final due to lack of competition, not because he is weak mentally.
``He also did the mistake to not build his final race through qualification races, in stopping running in the last 40m, saving energy for sure but losing it teasing his opponents (including his cousin, Derrick Atkins, who would eventually beat him during the final) and lacking speed maintenance-specific rhythm.
``This habit to shut down before the finish line he started in 2006 to protect his hamstrings according his coach, made it difficult to find his own rhythm.
``This problem was actually solved in Osaka where he raced six races in one week (especially the relays where he had to come from behind), as opposed to 11 races in six months for the pre-Osaka season.’’