Asafa Powell is one of the most talented athletes in the history of track and field. He is also one of the most unfortunate. For all this sublime talent Powell has had a history of tripping up at major championships – the World Championships and the Olympic Games.
In 2003, Powell, then an unknown, was in the process of making his way through the rounds of the men’s 100 metres at the World Championships in Paris, France. He then ended up in a quarter-final with the American ‘Clown Prince’ Jon Drummond, who false started and created much drama in being ejected. During a protracted process where he argued his case to track-side officials that he had not false started he eventually lay flat on his back and refused to leave the track. After what seemed like forever, Drummond realized his time-wasting antics were not going to get him re-instated and he decided to leave the track and allow the race to proceed. As the race was about to be re-started, Asafa Powell was getting ready to get back to his blocks when he discovered to great personal shock and disappointment that he too had been disqualified for false starting even though it was evident that he reacted to Drummond’s premature reaction to the gun.
In subsequent major championships Powell would continue to suffer. In the Olympic finals 2004, performance anxiety caused him to finish fifth. In 2005, a groin injury kept him out of the World Champs in Helsinki. In 2007, performance anxiety again caused him to finish third after he was leading with 20 metres to go in the finals of the 100 metres. And in 2008, injury and perhaps performance anxiety resulted in another fifth-place finish.
2011 and Powell is the favorite to take the 10o-title in Daegu, South Korea, and about 48 hours before he was to start competing the world heard that he had withdrawn from the championships because of a groin injury. Based on his history at major competitions many people just assumed that this was another situation where Powell was demonstrating that he did not have the stomach for the spotlight at international competitions. The frustration and disappointment once again became evident among Powell’s legion of fans even as the jokes came fast from his growing number of detractors. It seems that once again Powell’s reputation had taken another major blow and his love hate relationship with fans was plunging rapidly into another ‘hate’ phase.
This time, however, the 28-year-old former world record holder – in my opinion – has to share the blame with his handlers who continue to blunder.
Powell developed an injury to his groin in Rabat on July 30. He was to have competed at the Aviva London Diamond League meet on August 5. In the days leading up to the race Powell talked about a storm only for British newspapers to report on the day he was down to run, that he was withdrawing from the meet because of tightness in his groin. That was supposed to be his last race before the world championships that began on August 27. In between, media across the world published stories suggesting that Powell was saying he was confident of winning, that he was ready to step out of Usain Bolt’s shadow, that he had overcome his mental issues and it was now his time to shine. Because of the media storm it came as a shock to many that Powell was withdrawing from what could be one of his last major championships.
Powell turns 29 in November and many experts don’t see him competing well past the Olympics in London in 2012 and the World Championships in Russia in 2013. He could decide to continue on beyond that but with Bolt being four years younger and continuing to be dominant, and with upcoming stars like Yohan Blake and Nesta Carter as well as others getting better every day, it could well force Powell to walk away from the sport that has brought him so much fame and fortune and becoming the grease monkey he has always wanted to be.
However, had his handlers moved to check the hype he was building around his potential match up with Bolt, considering that they knew how delicate his situation was, a lot of the speculation about the ‘real’ reason why Powell withdrew could have been averted. A statement outlining the nature of Powell’s injury, the treatment he was receiving and expected recovery time would have helped put things into perspective and diffused some of the over-hype. Bruce James the president of the MVP Track Club, the club with which Powell has been associated for almost a decade, unsuccessfully tried to explain to the media locally that their decision to keep Powell’s injury a secret was an attempt to protect the athlete from public scrutiny and to prevent him from being at a disadvantage to his rivals.
That might have been their intention but what they ended up doing was further damaging the athlete’s reputation because the speculation over his withdrawal is now rampant with people forming their own truths about Powell. And what exactly would be the disadvantage of his rivals knowing he is hurt? In Berlin in 2009, the world knew of Tyson Gay’s torn-up groin. Exactly which athlete other than Usain Bolt could have taken advantage of that? Seriously, why all the secrecy?
It is clear that Powell’s management does not learn from past mistakes. It was only a couple of season’s ago that Powell and some of his MVP teammates were being used to promote the Utech Classic track meet that was being held at the national stadium. Either on the day of the meet or sometime before Powell hurt his ankle and was unable to compete, but instead of coming clean about the athlete’s status, his handlers continued to keep his injury a secret. Fans were so incensed they flooded the airwaves and print media with angry rants about what they believed to be an obvious deception aimed at luring them to attend the meet. Eventually, the Fair Trading Commission decided to investigate and word is Utech marginally escaped being fined a sizable sum of money.
This time the damage could be far more severe for an athlete whose image has already taken too many hits. Meet promoters might start thinking twice about inviting Powell to meets fearing their reputations being compromised by an unreliable athlete, who it could be perceived feigns injuries. I mean, if his handlers continue to hide the truth, as was the case this time, who knows when people will stop believing the athlete and, more importantly, stop believing in him in instances when people really need to understand the difference between when he is really hurt and when the spotlight begins to make him nauseous.
As Dr. Paul Wright correctly stated on radio recently Powell is a national treasure and should be treated as such. What his handlers have been doing has been nothing short of disgraceful.