While Usain Bolt cooled his heels, his primary rivals torched the track this past weekend.
Bolt's countryman, Asafa Powell, overcame a horrible start and powered to an impressive 9.81 finals victory in the 100 meters at Friday night's Diamond League opener in Doha, Qatar. He pulled four other runners in his wake to sub-10 times. Powell had earlier run an astonishing 9.75 in the qualifying heats.
A warm desert tailwind just over the allowable limit was the only tarnish on both of Powell's otherwise impressive runs.
Then, at Sunday's Manchester Great City Games, American Tyson Gay handily dispatched Tommie Smith's 44-year-old straight track 200-meter record (19.50), cruising home virtually uncontested in 19.41.
Unlike Powell, Gay ran against a slight headwind in cool conditions, but seemed winded in the final 50 meters.
Both Powell and Gay appear to be nearly 100 percent recovered from the nagging injuries from last year. Such quick times this early in the season seem to indicate that both runners have more in the tank and are positioning themselves for future head-to-head confrontations—which of course will include Bolt.
In perhaps a bit of verbal gamesmanship, Mr. Bolt has implied that 2010 would provide the best opportunity for his rivals to close in on him—daresay even defeat him—as his focus and training schedule is geared toward the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Gay gamely refused to bite on the psychological ploy by suggesting any serious challenge in an actual head-to-head would probably only push Bolt to new world records.
While Gay and Powell have now thrown down the gauntlet, Bolt will have a busy week ahead with three chances to respond. On Wednesday in Daegu, South Korea, he will compete in the 100 meters. On the heels of that outing, he will run the 200 meters in the Shanghai Diamond League meet on May 23. And then comes an attempt at Michael Johnson's 300-meter world record (30.85) in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia on May 27.
Without a global championship in 2010, the world will have to settle for one occasion (Brussels Diamond League) where Bolt, Gay and Powell will meet in the same race. However, the Diamond League entry lists are not yet finalized and we can only hope for more head-to-heads to materialize.
To date, Bolt has only two head-to-heads confirmed: a 100-meter showdown with Powell in Paris on July 16 and that 100-meter challenge from Gay and Powell in Brussels on Aug. 27.
If the three fastest men alive have only a mere mortal's portion of competitive fire (and we all know they do), they will quickly tire of observing one another from afar. They will do what is right for the sport and what is right in their hearts.
They will arrange to line up shoulder to shoulder and settle it on the track.
See Tyson Gay's 200m straight track record here.
See Asafa Powell's 9.81 100m win here.
Lead photos courtesy of US Presswire.