WHEN Jamaican Asafa Powell, inarguably the most natural sprinting talent of all-time, takes his lane in the final of the 100 meters at the Beijing Olympics, he will be up against much more than his world record bearing compatriot Usain Bolt and World champion American Tyson Gay.
The 26-year-old will be up against time itself; yes that immortal fire that eventually consumes from the memory all underachievers.
Time â€” if the former world record holder has another of his famous big-stage capitulations in the final â€” will have taken its major step yet on authoring the anti-climax of the sprinter who was supposed to retire The Greatest.
Little choice but to win
Powell has to win gold. It is that simple. He might have talked about being under no pressure now that heâ€™s not the worldâ€™s fastest or has no major title to his name but rather than shift the burden to his rivals, his own argument ironically captures the essence of why Powell has to deliver.
With no major title, Powell has to leave Beijing as Champion to ensure that when he eventually retires, he will have an achievement that cannot be rewritten as his former 9.74 world record, recently slashed to 9.72 by Bolt.
Not to be outdone, Powell has promised to cut the record further by 0.02 before long but seeing as Bolt is just 21, Asafaâ€™s countryman would have enough time to set another record eventually.
Titles on the other hand are exclusive and are further proof of supremacy, something that Powell would have proven if heâ€™s to show his challengers a clean pair of spiked heals on that day.
Yet fewer people may be willing to back him now as they did say before last yearâ€™s World Athletics Championships 100m final.
That final, which Powell led for 2/3rds of the way before dramatically buckling and eventually finishing third, ended many observers faith in the Jamaicanâ€™s hopes of winning a major medal.
That final also raised uncomfortable questions about Powellâ€™s temperament, for he appeared to allow his shoulders to drop the second he realised that victory was well out of sight.
But that very final, which Powell led for 2/3rds, showcased the sprinterâ€™s chief strength â€” the foundation on which any potential victory in China will be inevitably built.
Powell has the best start of his major rivals, which is not so surprising as Gay and Bolt are also 200 metre specialists, a race that naturally lays emphasis on strong finishing than vice versa.
Superior start, tentative finish
Powell himself knows this and earmarked strengthening his finishing in the run-up to Beijing as he traditionally slows down when approaching the finish line.
But as his admission implies, the Jamaican knows he can ill-afford a sluggish finish in China as he did in Osaka last year.
This means that, in all likelihood, Powell will lead the pack out of the blocks in the final before coming under immense pressure in the final third from the pursuing Bolt and Gay.
What will happen thenâ€¦
Powell just 30m away from gold