Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Powell, Gatlin recount one of sports’ great rivalries

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2024 | 12:11 AMOrane Buchanan - Staff Reporter

Justin Gatlin, of the United States, and Asafa Powell, of Jamaica, congratulate each other after winning separate 100 metre races at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon in 2006.
Justin Gatlin, of the United States, and Asafa Powell, of Jamaica, congratulate each other after winning separate 100 metre races at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon in 2006.

Justin Gatlin (right) wins the men’s 100 metres ahead of (from left) Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, at the Prefontaine Classic track and field meet in Eugene, Oregon in 2016.
Justin Gatlin (right) wins the men’s 100 metres ahead of (from left) Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, at the Prefontaine Classic track and field meet in Eugene, Oregon in 2016.
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IN THEIR heyday, the rivalry between Jamaica’s Asafa Powell and America’s Justin Gatlin served up mouth-watering encounters and jaw-dropping times.

“From 2003 to around 2007, there was only one individual I had to worry about, and that was Asafa Powell. When he lined up, I knew I had to be on guard because there was one individual on the face of the planet that could have run stride to stride with me,” said Gatlin during Powell’s ‘The Fast Lane Lifestyle’ podcast on YouTube.

During that period of time, Powell went from 10.02 seconds over the 100 metres to the world record at the time, 9.77 in 2005.

By the time 2005 rolled around, Gatlin had a personal best of 9.85 seconds but still proved a thorn in the side of the world record holder.

After a break of four years because of a drug ban, Gatlin returned in 2010 and, after a slow start, his quickest time that year was 10.09. He began racking up fast times again, dropping down to 9.79 in 2012 before blitzing 9.77 in 2014 and 9.74 in 2015.

During the period Gatlin was out, Powell first dropped the world record from 9.77 to 9.74 in 2007, before again lowering it to 9.72 in 2008.

The big Jamaican would continue to run fast, clocking low 9.8s up until 2015.

The overlap meant both athletes invariably found themselves in titanic clashes. Those exchanges were nerve-wracking.

“Nerves have to be there, but you try not to be too nervous. You’re running against Justin Gatlin, Usain Bolt, and Tyson Gay. Of course, that changes the entire race,” said Powell.

According to Powell, throughout all that time, Gatlin never changed.

“What I admired about Justin is that, from 2003 when we started to compete against him, nothing changed. He had the same technique while I went through a lot of changes just to try and make it better. Sometimes when I was running and Justin got out before me, I would be like, ‘let me go back to my other technique’, but he had one way of running,” he said.

The former world record holder, Powell, retired from the sport in 2022 with a stacked resumé, which included the most sub-10 times in history, eight national titles, a commonwealth gold medal, two world championship gold medals, and an Olympic gold medal.

Gatlin had eight national titles, four world championship gold medals, and an Olympic gold medal.

But Gatlin’s rivalry with Powell, and then later with Usain Bolt, made him the enemy of Jamaican fans. Something the quick American understood.

“I’ve always said it, Jamaicans are the best fans and they’re die-hearted. They just want really good competition, win or lose. I felt like I was public enemy number one for a lot of years,” he said.

Outside of the rivalry, Powell will most remember the camaraderie with his teammates.

“It was always a fun time. One of the things I miss as well is being around my teammates like Michael Frater, Nesta Carter, Usain Bolt, and the bond that we had. We were always laughing, making jokes and doing fun stuff.”

orane.buchanan@gleanerjm.com