Deciphering the Mystery That Is Asafa Powell


To many, Asafa Powell is an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, and clothed with a big question mark. “Underachiever”, “choke artist”, and “flop” are just a few of the many uncomplimentary terms routinely tossed the big Jamaican sprinter’s way by those who fail to fathom how one apparently so gifted could perpetually fail to win the big one.

Asafa’s second-place finish (yes, silver medal-winning performance) in the 60-metre final at the the recently concluded IAAF World Indoor Championships only gave his many critics more ammunition.

Of hopes and expectations

It’s become apparent to me that the depth of disappointment that many people feel after a perceived Asafa failure is fuelled by the loftiness of their expectations beforehand. Why such lofty expectations, though? After all, unlike one’s reservoir of hope, I have always thought that one’s expectations should blossom (or wither) from a sound logical or experiential foundation.

Despite the two imperious world-leading and national record 6.44-second runs in his heat and semifinal, did Asafa’s previous performances in World and Olympic finals really justify the apparently incontrovertible expectation of gold that so many people seemingly had? No, they didn’t. Asafa’s track record, in this regard, speaks for itself. As such, if anything, I was heartened by the steely determination he showcased in overcoming a mediocre start to claim his first World Indoor medal.

The “Asafa” in your mirror

Relentlessly bashing Powell for seemingly not making the most of what one perceives to be the prototypical physical traits of a world-beating short sprinter mightn’t be a sound play either. What are the “prototypical traits of a world-beating short sprinter” anyway? Maybe we should ask Usain Bolt, perhaps.

The truth is that the physical is only a part of the equation. The psychological is as critical a component of the elite athlete’s make-up – if not more so. Maybe the trauma of his tragic disqualification in the quarter-finals of the 2003 World Championships bedevils him to this day. (He’d looked as likely as any to take the title after coolly dispatching eventual world champ Kim Collins in his heat.) Or, maybe there’s some congenital psychological issue that prevents Asafa from running his fastest in the most highly pressurized situations.

Let’s be honest! Many of us have similar issues. We totally freeze in one-on-one job interviews with the friendliest of interviewers. We freak out during (or ‘chicken out’ before) public speaking engagements. Some of us couldn’t even summon the wherewithal to take the stage at a Care Bears convention. It’s sad, but true. Yet, we seemingly derive some macabre pleasure from bashing a man whose stage is global with an audience numbering in the hundreds of millions.

A seminal figure in the history of Jamaican sprinting

While I was never an Asafa basher, there was a time when my lofty expectation-induced bouts of disappointment would lead me to vent in various fora. Like Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus, I was ‘doing’ the information superhighway on my way to Facebook to ‘persecute’ Asafa for seemingly failing to deliver again when I had an epiphany. It immediately became apparent to me that Asafa Powell was the “John the Baptist” of Jamaican men’s 100-metre sprinting. It instantly struck me that his primary purpose was to prepare the way and inspire the generation of world-beaters who’ve subsequently followed.

A legendary body of work

We all have our shortcomings. Hating less and appreciating this sprint legend more is what more of us need to do. Let’s celebrate the many outdoor 100-metre world records. Let’s salute his amazing longevity at the pinnacle of the sprint game, which has yielded a world record number of sub-10 second perfomances. Let’s thank him for delivering all those beastly relay legs that have either set-up or sealed no less than three World and Olympic 4×100 golds. Oh, and let’s give him his props for the individual 100m medals he’s actually won.

Once there’s life, there’s hope

I’ll continue to hope that Asafa will eventually land the big one and fulfill his (possible) secondary purpose. In a perfect world, Bolt would secure his third consecutive Olympic 100m crown later this year – with Asafa producing a personal best for silver. Then, with Bolt opting to close out his illustrious career by only competing in his favoured 200 metres and the 4×100 relay in 2017, Asafa would step up to the plate to claim his first World Championship 100m crown. He’d then drive off into the sunset in a souped-up 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe.

I must say that it’s not what I expect, but a man can always hope. Yes, hope does spring eternal.

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