Peerless Powell

Asafa Powell... bettering his own world record.-AP

Asafa Powell's performance is all the more astonishing because not only did it come during the heats, it was also at the end of a season in which he never once threatened to produce such a time, writes Michael Phillips.

Asafa Powell obliterated his own 100m world record by running 9.74 seconds at the Rieti Grand Prix in Italy on September 9 — a fortnight to the day after panicking in his attempt to become world champion.

The Jamaican had jointly held the old mark of 9.77 with the American Justin Gatlin, whose name will be removed from the record books if he fails to overturn an eight-year doping ban. Now the 24-year-old stands alone and this performance is all the mor e astonishing because not only did it come during the heats, it was also at the end of a season in which he never once threatened to produce such a time.

That is what happens when I listen to my coach,” said Powell, showing his typical power and brilliant finishing to cross the line ahead of Jaysuma Saidy Ndure, of Norway, in 10.07 and Kim Collins, of St. Kitts and Nevis, the 2003 world champion, in 10.14. His victory came with a tailwind of 1.7 metres per second, inside the legal limit, but in the final, with no wind reading, he won in 9.78 to beat his fellow Jamaican Michael Frater in 10.03, with Saidy Ndure third in 10.10.

Even though he had looked dominant throughout the rounds in Osaka, Powell all but gave up in the final, despite leading with 30m left. American Tyson Gay came up on his shoulder and Powell admitted he panicked and slipped into third place. As Gay won in 9.85 Powell, who has still to claim a major global title, ran 9.96. He has clocked 9.77 on three occasions but has not run quicker than 9.90 this summer and that race came two months ago at the Golden League meeting in Rome.

Powell had never planned to become a professional sportsman. He was preparing for a career as an engineer before developing his athletics prowess while at university in Kingston, Jamaica.

He was a relative unknown when he was disqualified from the quarterfinal of the 100m at the world championships in Paris in 2003. By 2004 Powell was the favourite for Olympic gold in Athens but finished fifth. The biggest 100m title he has won was the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March last year.

He first broke the world record in Athens in June 2005 when his 9.77 lowered the mark of Maurice Greene, of America, by 0.02. He then repeated that feat twice last summer — in Gateshead and Zurich — after Gatlin had equalled it in Doha. Gay has set the standards this year, first with a wind-assisted 9.76 and then 9.84 to win the USA trials.

But Powell has avoided racing the American. The pair met for the only time this summer in Osaka, when Gay charged through for gold. They were lined up for a rematch at the Weltklasse Grand Prix in Zurich but the organisers would not pay Powell the $100,000 (£50,000) he demanded.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007