9.something …

Running a race is the closest a human being can come to feel and express one’s natural abilities. It’s a pure show of physical strength and stamina sans any artificial extensions like a tennis racket or a cricket bat. The 1500m or a 10km race is not only about speed. Its about tactics, its about outguessing one’s opponent, its about pacing the race and timing the final assault on the finishing line.

However the sexiest event of an athletic competition happens when the guns go boom to a line up of 8 human F1cars. The 100 meters is the most watched one unarguably. It’s a bit like T20, it’s over before one says ‘twiddledums’. It’s thought to be pure speed. But just like T20 it has it’s own nuances, its own strategies. Those 9.some seconds are what most sprinters live for. Some choose to sacrifice themselves for the same by using banned substances. Probably because the stakes are so high and one has no second chances. No time to pull back. Well almost.

They kneel down to push their torsos up from their bent down position, every muscle in the body ready for the assault. They have their goal literally in sight, only 100 meters away. The start is important, the finish more so.

Beijing 2008 will be witness to a muted but intense rivalry to decide the title of ‘the fastest man on earth’. Asafa Powell has always been in the race (pun intended). The sixth son from 2 country pastors from Jamaica has been one of the more soft spoken faster guys around. His biggest clean competitor around has been another soft spoken guy. Tyson Gay.

Powell is the world’s fastest man with a 100 meter timing of 9.74 seconds but has no major championship medal to show for all that speed. Tyson Gay is the triple event winner of the 100m, 200m and the 4 X 100 meter winning team in the 2007 Osaka World championships. Their rivalry has been at best an underplayed one, at worst nonexistent.

ESPN had a brilliant interview with both the protagonists before the world championships at Osaka in 2007. Both of them talked about respect for each other (unlike a heavy weight boxing title aspirant who Maurice Greene represented). They thought that they were the best. They reminded one of a Federer and a Nadal. Fierce competitors in a nice way. They were egotists maybe, but they had enough humility to disguise it. There was a shared respect amongst the world’s two best sprinters. And it seemed genuine. What is interesting to note is that no matter which sport, there’s only one road to excellence. It is about being in the zone. It is about relaxing. It is about doing simple (?) things perfectly right.


The Perfect 100

Powell: Every race is about 48 steps. At the start, you try to stay low out of the blocks. Then you go to your drive phase, then to your lifting phase, at about 50 meters. After 60 meters you can’t go any faster, so you’re trying to stay relaxed and maintain that speed to the 100-meter mark. My toughest part has been the end. But I’ve worked really hard on that — maintaining form and trying to stay relaxed.

Gay: I’m trying to work on my start. As a 200m runner, you can have a bad start and still catch up. You don’t have room for mistakes in the 100.

Powell: When you’re head-to-head with one or two guys, the natural reaction is to try harder to go faster. It will mess you up. Start to finish, don’t pay attention to anyone. It’s just you.

Gay: It’s scientifically proved that if you relax, you run faster. I’m still trying to understand it.

Powell: You have to visualize, make the race happen before it actually does. At 50 meters, I’m thinking, Lift! Lift! And, Swing your arms! That’s the only thing going through my mind.

Gay: The big thing is not changing anything when you get out there. You’ve got to practice the same thing over and over, so it’s basically muscle memory. For me, the perfect race is more a feeling, not necessarily the time — a race where I feel at ease, like I’m not trying.

Some one had to lose at the show down at Osaka 2007. Powell did. And he did it badly. Tongues wagged about his inability to perform under pressure. People talked about his inability to win major championships. With the Olympics looming in, tongues have started to wag again. This is what Michael Johnson, the legend had to say about Powell just a week back

SALVO, North Carolina, April 29 (Reuters) – Jamaican 100 metres world record holder Asafa Powell is not the world’s best sprinter, retired 200 and 400 record holder Michael Johnson said.

That honour, he said, goes to American world champion Tyson Gay.

“I measure sprinters based on consistency and (Gay) is the more consistent,” Johnson said during an online chat on the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Web site (www.iaaf.org).

“He’s got better performances at championships,” Johnson added of Gay, the world 100 and 200 metres champion.

“Asafa Powell is a great talent but he can never get it done. He’s failed time after time at the championships.”

Powell’s world record of 9.74 seconds is a 10th of a second faster than Gay’s best of 9.84 but the Jamaican has never won a global sprint title.

That will not change in Beijing, according to Johnson.

Asked by an online questioner how Powell could win 100 metres gold at the Beijing Games in August, Johnson replied jokingly: “Trip Tyson Gay.”

He made the comment before Powell’s manager announced the Jamaican would not compete again until late June because of a pulled pectoral muscle.

Johnson also predicted Gay would win the 200 in Beijing to match his 2007 world championship sprint double.

It is possible that Johnson is practising ‘mental disintegration’ on Powell. Powell failing at major championships is a fact, but maybe it wasn’t due to choking every time.

Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool coach had commented on Didier Drogba’s diving capabilities before the second leg of the Champion League’s semi final with Chelsea. Many people might agree with Benitez (I sure do), but the timing of the statement was dubious. Here was a coach who was trying to pull down a player from the opposition before a crucial match. He was showing his desperation but he was also playing with fire. Drogba maybe a Greg Louganis on the football field, but the man can use his legs to perfection. He did. Drogba scored 2 goals in a 3-2 extra time win over Liverpool. This is what he did after scoring the first one. If a picture could tell a story, this one would be nominated at the Oscars.

Drogba said in an interview later that he had pinned Benitez’s photo in his locker to motivate himself. He wanted to react to Benitez’s allegations by scoring goals. And boy he did. Maybe Asafa Powell should take a leaf out of Drogba’s book and answer his critics once and for all by winning gold at Beijing. It will be a pity if he doesn’t, after dominating the short race for years. One can always send him Michael Johnson’s photo to pin in his room.

Powell will do well to remember what Sun Tzu has said in his ‘The Art of war’ – “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

Posted by Rahul


3 thoughts on “9.something …

  1. More on Sun-tzu: If your enemy is superior, evade him. **If angry, irritate him**. If equally matched, fight, and if not split and reevaluate

    The other lines seem to be long forgotten..

    Guess these days a lot of sportsmen lose the plot playing to the media…Wht if Chelsea lost?..Wud the bug on the wall let us know of the Benitez photo?

    Different ppl .. different mindsets ..different ways to handle pressure..Champions al of them

    Over years have observed the more American the sport or more macho a sport is perceived to be the more superhumanly the prematch sentiments:)

    However the true champs..The Sachins the Waughs the Zidanes the Schumis the Federers Anand Vishwanathans of the world have intimidated ppl with the game than the jabber.

    If a player/team has a history like a Klusener or the SA cricket team .. then maybe the mental games make sense.

    But its been done too often .. too immaturely for my liking..Character self belief is the mental setup tht wins u things not intimidation.

    May the best man win but for the underlying my belief may Asafa Powell win:)

  2. Nikhil,

    the final result need not be a Powell gold, it is not even about proving some one wrong. A Tendulkar would have to only talk about erroneous/spiteful prematch comments made. But its more about performing at the highest stage under pressure. As mentioned earlier in another blog, Powell maynot hold the world record in the future but will always have a Olympic gold medal on his wall.
    As for the Sun Tzu quote, I would think Powell and Gay are equally matched and in that case Powell has to fight it out in his mind first before he even enters the stadium. The Sun Tzu quote was cited due to the location where their battle will be fought


  3. Pingback: 9.something (just like 5.something) - Not Cricket

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