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Powell & Jeter full of confidence going into Birmingham

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‘Freezing’ days are over, says Powell – Birmingham, Samsung Diamond League

Matthew Brown for the IAAF
IAAF Website
Friday, 8 July 2011

Birmingham, UK – Grey, damp Birmingham may feel like ‘the North Pole’ to Asafa Powell, but Jamaica’s ‘other’ sprinter insists his days of ‘freezing’ in major finals are well and truly over.

Indeed, Powell, who tops the bill for the ninth leg of the 2011 Samsung Diamond League meeting at the revamped Alexander Stadium in England’s second city on Sunday (10), claims he is now the man to beat, not just at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix but at next month’s IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea (27 Aug - 4 Sep) too.

Powell didn’t quite say, ‘Usain Bolt, who’s he?’, but the famously laid-back former World record holder sounded more upbeat than ever on Friday ahead of his bid for a first global title in Daegu, his confidence bolstered by his scintillating 9.78 in Lausanne last week when he shaved one hundredth of a second from Tyson Gay’s 100m world season lead.

“I’m the number one sprinter this year,” said Powell. “I’m the man to beat. That time gives me the edge over everyone, for sure. I have the time.”

Indeed, with Gay out of the running thanks to his troubling hip injury, and Bolt only slowly returning to true lightening form, Powell is daring to view the coming Worlds with real hope, even expectation.

“This is the best shape I’ve ever been in before a championships,” he said. “I’ve got no injuries and I think I have a great chance, a 99 per cent chance.”

Even of beating World record holder Bolt?

“I know for sure I can beat him,” said Powell, belying his usual caution. “After I gave away my race in Rome, I know I can do it. I should have won that race so I know it’s possible.”

“Getting injured…before a championships and mentally…affects me”

Powell is widely said to have missed a golden opportunity to get one over on his more ebullient compatriot after he led by a clear metre with just 20 to go in the Italian capital back on 26 May, only to lose by 0.02s in 9.93.

“I lost my focus,” he said afterwards, hardly allaying the doubts about his ability to perform under pressure.

But the 28-year-old remains impressively unconcerned by the nay-sayers who point to his lack of a global gold despite a record 69 sub-10 second performances, including five this year. For Powell, his much-touted mental shakiness is merely a result of physical fragility: stay healthy in body, and the mind will be sharp too.

“People say when I go to a big championships I freeze up, and I don’t do as well as I’m supposed to do,” he said. “But I’ve been getting injured two to three weeks before a championships and mentally that’s what affects me. This time I know I’m in good shape, my best shape ever.”

Powell admits his chances are boosted by Gay’s enforced absence as the American never lets you off the hook.

“It’s easier without Tyson there,” he says. “Tyson’s such a competitor he never gives up. If you make a small mistake he will win. If he’s not there I can make a slight mistake and still win.”

That was certainly the case the last time Powell raced in the UK – at the British Grand Prix – Samsung Diamond League in Gateshead last summer when Powell appeared to have the race won until another slip in concentration allowed Gay to edge ahead, winning by 0.02s in 9.94. Gay went on to clock a stunning 9.78 into the wind in a rainy London Grand Prix - Samsung Diamond League at Crystal Palace a few weeks later while Powell’s season ended with defeat to Bolt in Paris.

Getting through healthy

Powell’s no stranger to success in the UK either, though, not least back in 2006 when he equalled the then World record with a superb 9.77 in a surprisingly sunny Gateshead.

However, despite the promise of drier, warmer weather in the West Midlands on Sunday evening, Powell is clearly not expecting to approach that UK all-comers’ record this time around.

With no fewer than nine sub-10 men in the field, including his teammates Michael Frater and Nesta Carter, second and fourth in Lausanne, just winning will be tough enough.

Indeed, not surprisingly, his main concern between now and the opening heats in Korea is to stay injury-free.

“On Sunday I just want to get through the race healthy,” he said. “I’m not going out there to jog, you understand, but I do want to get though OK.

“I’m very fragile. When you’re moving so fast every time you race you are putting pressure on something in your body. I know it’s summer, but this is like the North Pole for me.”

Jeter - “It was a great accomplishment for me to double”

At this stage of a season with so much at stake, such a cautious approach is endorsed by many athletes, not least USA’s Carmelita Jeter, another sprinter known for fast times rather than championship honours.

The newly-crowned US champion and world season leader over 100m will race over 200m on Sunday after finishing second at the half-lap behind Shalonda Solomon at the national trials two weeks ago. Like Powell, Jeter believes she’s in the form of her life.

Indeed, the 31-year-old, who famously become the second quickest woman in history in 2009 when she ran 10.64, doing the sprint double in Daegu is a definite goal, and she has half an eye on attempting a similar feat at the London Olympics next year.

“I am very pleased with how I performed at the US trials,” said Jeter, who clocked a windy 10.74 to win the 100m, and stands ahead of Veronica Campbell-Brown with 10.70 on the world list.

“It was a great accomplishment for me to double. It wasn’t easy. In fact, the work started last November. I definitely want to do the double in Daegu, and then next year I will compete over both distances at the US Olympic trials and let’s see what happens.”

Like Powell, Jeter has two 100m bronze medals from the last two World Championships, but admits she’s in such good form this year that one of her toughest jobs is controlling her anticipation with more than a month and a half still to go before the big meet.

“Everything is going so well,” she said. “I’m just trying not to get too excited ahead of Daegu. If I have a great season but don’t do well in Daegu that’s no good.”

“I don’t feel I have anything to prove, but at the end of the day I want to run a great race at the World Championships. I’m trying not to put pressure on myself but I want to go there and make people remember why I’m the quickest in the world.”

“If you tweak…the body just goes pfut, pfut, pfut”

As for this Sunday, like Powell she believes quick times are not the main concern.

“Every race until Daegu is about working towards that goal,” she said. “I could run 21.5 here but then if I don’t do it at the Worlds it doesn’t mean anything.

“Sunday will be about working on some part of the structure of my race. I don’t know what yet, I haven’t had my instructions [from coach John Smith].

“But I know I’m in as good a shape right now as I’ve ever been in, and it’s in the back of my mind just to stay healthy. If you tweak something now it can be a like a car with the wrong oil – the body just goes pfut, pfut, pfut. I have to be ready and fully charged.”

“Birmingham; it’s like LA on a cold day sometimes”

She’ll need to be pretty charged up on Sunday with a line-up that includes fellow Americans Bianca Knight and Marshevet Myers, plus Jamaica’s Olympic and world silver medallist Kerron Stewart, and the re-emerging European force, Ivet Lalova of Bulgaria.

For Jeter, though, this particular 200m contest is only one “small step” in a much longer term plan to be a major force at all three sprints – yes, even the 400m.

“I believe the 200m will definitely help my 100m, that’s the way I’m looking at it when I line up. I look at it helping the race I truly love, that’s why I run it – for my strength. And I’m actually starting to like it.

“Actually, in high school and college I was more of a 200m runner. And doing more 200m races this year is pushing me forward again as not just a 100m runner.

“But one day I want to be known as a 400m runner too,” she adds, mentioning her “amazing”, “super-talented” compatriot Allyson Felix, the triple World 200m champion, as her role model. Not that we’ll see Jeter take on the quarter-mile this side of the Olympics, “not even for fun”.

“Everything’s about taking small steps,” she says. “One by one.”

The next one comes tomorrow when Jeter aims for her seventh win on British soil over the last two years in a stadium that will be her team training base prior to London 2012.

“I’ve been to Birmingham before when I ran the indoors,” she says. “I know the whole area pretty well. I’m definitely in tune with being in Birmingham; it’s like LA on a cold day sometimes.

“I’m definitely going to enjoy being here in 2012, what with it being English speaking and the food being pretty much the same. That’s the way I like it.”

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