At the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, China, in August 2008, triple World Championship gold medalist Tyson Gay was expected to resume his rivalry with Usain Bolt. The year before at the World Championships in Osaka, Japan, Gay defeated Asafa Powell to take the 100-metre title in 9.85s. It was his first victory over Asafa Powell, who had been the favorite to win his first global title. Gay then returned to defeat a certain Usain Bolt over the 200 metres and then landed his third gold medal as the United States won the men’s sprint relay but only just over a galant Jamaican team.
2008 was to have been Gay’s encore, but as fate would have it, in May that year Usain Bolt stormed to a world-leading 9.76s over the 100 metres at the Jamaica Invitational and then a couple weeks later shattered Powell’s world record of 9.74, running 9.72s in rainy conditions at the Icahn Stadium in New York. Gay was second in 9.85s, the same time he ran in Osaka the year before. It would turn out to be a disappointing year for the triple world championship gold medalist because while Bolt was just beginning his period of dominance, Gay would hit a host of hurdles during the year that saw him struggle at the US trials, barely made his way back in time for the Olympic Games but could only advance as far as the semi-finals.
Bolt would go on to dominate the Olympic games winning three gold medals while setting three world records along the way. Gay however, would return and though not completely free from injury, proceeded to have one of his best years in the Bolt era. Unbeknownst to many, Gay had been struggling with a groin injury for a while. Whenever he ran it would be with the greatest of discomfort but he did anyway and ran really fast. Gay ran consistently fast in 2009 producing his two best times later in the season 9.71s for second at the World Championships and then 9.69s aided by the maximum allowable wind in Shanghai in September that year. Those times made him the fastest American ever, but still not good enough to defeat Bolt.
Ever the competitor Gay took the risk of undergoing surgery to repair his damaged groin in the hope that he would be fit enough to get closer to Bolt. The former Razorback returned from hip surgery in 2010 to record a season best 9.78s (-0.4m/s) in London in less than perfect conditions and defeated Bolt in Stockholm. Yes, Bolt was not at his best but still, he lost to Gay.
2011 saw Gay deliver another fast time 9.79 in Clermont, Florida, but sadly, he missed the World Championships in 2011, again because of injury; this time his hip.
I say all this to say that Asafa Powell, one of the fastest men of all time, but who has recently been relegated to number three all time in Jamaica, after Yohan Blake dropped 9.69s in Lausanne, announced recently that he has opted not to do surgery on a groin injury that has done nothing but blunt his career since 2005. Since that time, that groin injury that has given rise to yet another injury to the sprinter’s groin, has also caused Powell to miss medal opportunities at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011 and again in London this year.
The injury has also worked to lessen the value of his brand as for a third straight Olympiad, Powell has failed to win an individual medal. This latest time, too, there was no consolation relay gold as he was unable to participate as a member of the world record setting sprint relay squad.
Powell argued that he does not feel the surgery will guarantee that he will run faster. Yes, but that does not say that it wont. The Tyson Gay example I cited above is proof of what can happen after groin surgery. I can appreciate Asafa’s fear about going under the knife but its not like he is a stranger to surgery. He underwent successful shoulder a few years ago so he knows the benefit of corrective surgery. Besides, have you ever heard of anyone who approaches surgery without even a modicum of fear?
Ultimately it’s his decision to make but this is a man who says he wants to be around for the Games in Rio in 2016. By then he will be four years older and less likely to recover from any subsequent groin injury he may experience between now and that time.
In fact, I would venture to say that if he sticks to his decision not to undergo the surgery Asafa could find himself unable to compete in Rio or not even last that long. In an age where there is already a successor to Bolt’s crown as the world’s greatest sprinter and with so many young talented sprinters like Kemar Bailey Cole emerging, Asafa is going to be hard pressed over the next few years to hold onto his current number three ranking and number four all time. He might not see it the way I do, but logic would dictate that surgery is his best shot at remaining relevant over time as one of the fastest men in history.
His management, who I don’t believe has served him well enough over the years, need to sit down with the man who has run faster than 10 seconds more than anyone else in history, and discuss the pros and cons of surgery. Speak to people like Gay, who returned him hip surgery to run 9.80s in the Olympic final this past summer, about the benefits of the surgery and let him understand that ultimately, his legacy depends on him ending his career well. Without the surgery he might not have much of a legacy left when he finally decides to walk away.