Jamaican Asafa Powell, who took up sprinting just four years ago, yesterday set a world record of 9.77 seconds in the 100 meters to earn the title of World's Fastest Man at age 22.
Powell set the mark at the Tsiklitiria Super Grand Prix in Athens's Olympic Stadium, where last year he finished fifth in the 100 during the Summer Games. His time was one-hundredth of a second faster than American Tim Montgomery's previous world mark of 9.78 and ensured that Powell's fame will finally catch up to his speed.
"I wasn't sure this was going to come out today," Powell said by phone from Athens several hours after the race. "I was really surprised and happy about the time. . . . I dedicate this to Jamaicans."
Considered the sprint sensation of last summer, Powell failed to live up to expectations at the Olympics, finishing out of the medals in a fast final won by American Justin Gatlin in 9.85 seconds. A year earlier, at the 2003 world championships in Paris, Powell was disqualified from his 100 quarterfinal because of a false start.
For years, Powell wasn't even the fastest man in his own family, staying on the sideline as his older brother, Donovan Powell, competed in IAAF races in 1999, at one point posting a time in the 60 meters that ranked second in the world.
"It's hard to make up for last year on the same track," Powell said. "I have a lot of memories on this track. I think I showed the world I could have done it at the Olympics."
Ghana's Aziz Zakari finished second to Powell in 9.99 seconds and Jamaican Michael Frater was third in 10.03. Powell got off to a good start and won the race by three meters.
The record came on a warm night in Athens with a tailwind of 1.6 meters per second, below the legal limit of 2.0. Montgomery's time, which was set with the maximum allowable tailwind, could be in jeopardy as he faces a possible lifetime ban from the sport behind allegations of performance-enhancing drug use, which he denies.
Powell told reporters before the race that he wanted the world record and thought it could happen in Athens, given the good weather and fast track.
Powell had already held the world's leading time of the year; he was clocked in 9.84 seconds in a May 8 race. A month later, he finished a race in 9.85 seconds. Given his time of 9.98 seconds in yesterday's semifinals, Powell has already surpassed 10 seconds four times this season.
Powell, who watched the 2000 Olympics in Sydney on television, has emerged since 2001 under the tutelage of Jamaican coach Stephen Francis, who recruited Powell for his professional athletics camp in Jamaica after discovering him at the annual school national championships in Kingston. That year, Powell's best time in the 100 was a relatively slow 10.50.
"My own brother did not see my potential, and it took Francis to spot it and help me develop it," Powell told IAAF Magazine last year.
He added on the phone yesterday, "At the beginning, people were saying, 'No, he can't do it, he can't do it.' "
Powell, who was born in Spanish Town, is considered a near technically perfect runner who has been chasing the world record for some time. Last year, he won 13 races and was clocked under 10 seconds in wind-legal races nine times, matching the mark held by American Maurice Greene (1999) and Namibia's Frankie Fredericks ('97).
There's "no breakdown in his form," American Shawn Crawford said about Powell before last year's Olympics. "It's almost like a flawless race from start to finish."
Powell's performance provided the second world record 100 run on the Athens track. Greene, who held the record before Montgomery, ran a 9.79 there in 1999.
"I think I can run faster," Powell said. "I want to go to the world championships [in Helsinki in August] and get a medal. I haven't got a medal yet; I want one real bad."
said Asafa Powell, who has run under 10 seconds four times this season.Asafa Powell finished fifth in the 100 in the Athens Olympics last year. "I dedicate this to Jamaicans," he said.