Sprinters rig for silent running

From The Sunday Times
August 19, 2007

Speed kings slow to attack
Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay are a new breed of softly spoken and polite 100m sprinters who leave the trash talk behind

by Richard Lewis

NOT SO long ago a gathering of the fastest men in the world would be a raucous occasion.

Take Maurice Greene, the American who emerged from nowhere to win the world title in Athens in 1997. He would hardly need a microphone to broadcast his intentions to spectators and fellow competitors alike, and he would do his best to stare down his rivals as they gathered in the waiting room before the start of a race.

But he was as good on the track as his mouth was off it, breaking the world record and becoming Olympic champion.

In the build-to the world championships which start in Osaka on Saturday when the opening rounds of the 100m are run, those not sitting within a few metres of Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay are unlikely to hear their predictions ahead of what could become the quickest race of all time.

The speed merchants of the sprint are now the quietest of all the track characters and when they do talk, it is normally all about praising their rivals.

Jamaican Powell is the world record-holder with 9.77sec but has yet to win a major global title; American Gay is the season’s fastest man with 9.84sec and is looking for a 100m and 200m double.

The athletes have not met this summer, yet there has been none of the heavyweight bout-style trash talk that Greene made famous for track athletes. Anything but, in fact. As Gay said: “I really respect him [Powell] as an athlete and as a person. He carries himself in a humble way and is a great competitor.”

When Powell arrived in Osaka last week, he said: “I am looking forward to racing Gay, but the most important goal is to win the gold medal. If conditions are right, I could set a world record because it is a fast track.”

Powell is anxious to show that he can deliver at a major championship. He had been billed as the hot favourite for the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 and ended up finishing only fifth. And at the world championships he was disqualified from the quarter-finals in Paris in 2003 and was injured for Helsinki two years ago.

He won the Commonwealth Games title in Melbourne last March, but Osaka expects a race to rival that of the last time the world championships were staged in Japan, in Tokyo in 1991. Carl Lewis, of the US, broke the world record as he won in 9.86sec on an evening when the first six men all ran under 10 seconds.