Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The planet's new fastest man


Granted it's not hockey news, but as a huge track and field fan, I can't not weigh in on Asafa Powell's amazing feat yesterday. Powell ran the 100 m dash in 9.77 seconds, eclipsing the 9.78 mark set by suspected steroid user Tim Montgomery in 2002.

If you would have asked me heading into the Athens Olympics who would win the 100 m gold, I would have picked Powell. Watching the heats in 2004, the young Jamaican towers over fellow world-class sprinters and runs with a power, grace and rhythm that is nearly unparalleled in the history of track.

Those that saw him run in Athens will recall the sub-10 second race he had in a heat with his idol Maurice Greene in which Powell slowed up as he reached the finish line. How fast could he have finished had he pressed ahead, pundits wondered? I think yesterday we began to get our answer.

I used to fancy myself a runner of sorts, and as a member of the track team, I ran in all sorts of meets during high school (a lifetime ago, it now seems). The thing about Powell that impresses me is that he's a world-class sprinter at 6-foot-3 and about 200 pounds. That's an awful lot of Asafa to huff around.

Taken from the BBC's Are you a born athlete? site: A typical world-class male sprinter is 1.83m tall and 75-80kg (6 feet, 165-175 pounds).

Have a look around the sprinting world. Donovan Bailey is 6 feet, 180 pounds. Maurice Greene is 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Tim Montgomery, 5-foot-10, 160 pounds. The legendary Carl Lewis was 6-foot-2, but only 175 pounds. Leroy Burrell, the only other man to hold the 100 m record in the past 20 years, was 6 feet tall (I can't seem to track down his weight).

Personally, I was only able to run the sprint distances well —— generally the 200 or 400 m races —— before a horror-movie-like growth spurt pushed my height well over six feet. From then on, or so said the coach, I was a medium-distance runner. After all, how can you blast out of the blocks with a physique that is all limbs. The ensuing clumsiness didn't help either.

In my opinion, Powell is a new breed of 100 m runners, one that we can expect to be emulated over the next few decades. That a man of his stature and size is able to also now possess the necessary flexibility and quickness in addition to the immense power Asafa has, that could change the sport.

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