Jamaica’s Love/Hate Relationship with Asafa Powell
By Jackson Miller
Commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean
May 8, 2012
World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka –
Asafa Powell running away from Keston Bledman (left)
and Florin Suciu (middle) during the first round heat
in the men’s 100 meters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia).
Ok, hate is stretching it. But listen to any group of Jamaicans argue about Asafa Powell and a wide range of emotions emerges. Support – unwavering and constant (or not!), exasperation and frustration are among the most common. Even dedicated Asafa fans sometimes waver in their steadfastness. But what is it about this undeniably phenomenal athlete that stirs such intense emotions? Here are a couple of suggestions.
1. Unrealised Potential - this former world record holder has never won a major title except at the Commonwealth Games. We know he’s one of our greats, one of the world’s greats. He’s proven it by breaking the world record. Twice. How many athletes can say that? So it would just be the icing on the cake for him to be standing on that top podium as the Jamaican anthem plays and the black, green and gold ascends above the rest. And that’s the prize that has eluded him. We want it for him, for ourselves and for Jamaica. So fans are frustrated that he hasn’t managed to get there.
2. That mental element - we’re used to ultra-confident 100m champions. The chest-beating of Usain Bolt, the cockiness of Carl Lewis or even the quiet determination of Tyson Gay. THAT type of champion. So fans have never quite known how to read Asafa. When the BBC quoted Asfa as saying after that 2007 World Championship race in which he ran third to Tyson Gay and Derrick Atkins, that “When Tyson came on and gave me a little bit of pressure I just panicked. When I saw I wasn’t in gold medal contention, I gave up in the middle of the race. I just stopped running,” fans said “huh”?
He has, however, said that most of his problems have been physical, not mental.
3. Giving Up - As a result of his admitted missed opportunities, and comments like the one he made in 2009, everybody has been speculating about Asafa not having the mental toughness to finish the race. This, although he ran a hard race to pick up the bronze at the 2009 World Champs. Even if he has now acquired the mental toughness he admitted to lacking in 2007, many fans seem to have lost faith.
4. The Money - let’s put it out there. Some fans seem offended by the fact that Asafa obviously puts emphasis on professional races where he gets paid. Seriously? The man is a pro athlete. That’s what he does for a living. If he ends up broke with people passing a hat for him, the most he’ll be getting from a lot of people is expressions of pity and shock. The money issue is a red herring. All the pro athletes are running for money. Why is Asafa getting so much flak for it?
5. Pulling Out - Most recently, Asafa pulled out of the Jamaica Invitational, citing soreness in the groin, but announcing that he would be running in Doha at the start of the Diamond League. Last year, after talking up a storm all season he pulled out of the 100m at the World Championships, again citing injury. Although it makes sense that an athlete and his coaches would be thinking long term, and not wanting to risk possibly serious injury especially given Asafa’s history of injury, again, fans seem to have lost faith.
Asafa has taken notice. He was quoted last year by the Daily Mail as saying that:
“Athletics can be a very ungrateful sport. All the negative talk about me, questioning my mental strength and asking if I can ever beat those guys again when it matters, well that’s just given me motivation to prove a lot of people wrong, and to prove to myself that I still have it.”
As we draw nearer to the London 2012 Olympics, we’re all closely watching our elite athletes and hoping for the best for them all. Are fans expecting even more from Asafa this year, or have they given up?
Asafa Powell after his 9.72 win and track record at
the 2010 Bislett Games. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)