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Monday, Aug. 27, 2007

ODDS AND EVENS

Gay blows away Powell in 100 final


Staff writer

OSAKA — Muhammad Ali declared decades ago that he's The Greatest.

Ed Odeven

Evidently, that title is still reserved for the legendary boxer.

So there's but one individual title in sports that's just as coveted. And it was up for grabs on Sunday night at Nagai Stadium.

After the sun went down, 16 men, including Nobuharu Asahara, remained in the hunt to be named the World's Fastest Man. (By the way, that's one of the favorite three-word expressions in any sportswriter's lexicon.)

And the title belongs to . . . Tyson Gay.

He zoomed to the gold medal in a blistering 9.85 seconds to conclude the second day of action in the 2007 IAAF World Athletics Championships.

Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas made a late push for the silver medal and held off Asafa Powell of Jamaica, the former finishing the race in 9.91 seconds and the latter doing it in 9.96.

The key for Gay was his the fantastic final 30 meters, a time when it seemed he found an extra gear to surpass Powell, who held a slight lead.

* * * * *

In the highly anticipated semifinals, eight competitors would earn a ticket to the final.

But, really, in the eyes of the public it was a two-man battle: Gay vs. Powell.

Six hundredths of a second — really, that's comparable to 1 1/2 eyelashes — separated the men's top times of 2007 entering the IAAF World Athletics Championships.

Gay ran a blistering 9.84 seconds to seize the national title at the USA Track and Field Championships in June.

Powell dashed to the finish line in 9.90 seconds on July 13 in Jamaica.

His world record (9.77 seconds) was set on June 14, 2005, at Athens' Olympic Stadium.

(Sprinter Justin Gatlin, suspended for eight years for doping, also had a 9.77 effort in 100, on May 12, 2006, in Doha. That mark could eventually be wiped out of the record books.)

At 8:10 p.m., the first semifinal heat commenced, and 10.4 seconds later Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas beat his second cousin, Powell, to the finish line.

With a powerful stride, Powell surged to the lead and appeared to have enough gas in the tank to zoom to emerge victorious.

Atkins had other plans. He overtook his relative with about 10 meters left and held off Powell (10.08) and Slovenia's Matic Osovnikar (10.17).

Asahara, the oldest competitor in the field, placed last in 10.36, the slowest time in either semifinal.

In the second semifinal, it was 31 C when the gun sounded, an appropriate reminder of the heated anticipation of the later final.

Exactly 10 seconds later, Gay completed the 100 from Lane 4. He made it look easy, using a mechanical, but efficiently powerful stride along the way.

England speedster Marlon Devonish's runnerup time of 10.12 booked him a spot in the final eight, but it did little to dispel the notion that Gay would do nothing less than earn a medal.

By 8:20, the eight-man field was set. Powell was assigned to Lane 4, to his immediate right was Gay's spot in the fifth lane and Atkins was put in the sixth lane.

Two hours later, anticipation reached its zenith. Japanese fans and out-of-towners clapped and cheered as they witnessed the most exciting 10 seconds in sports, the scintillating pursuit of the coveted title.

The Jamaica Gleaner dubbed Sunday "D-Day for Asafa."

Gay had a different perspective, putting the pressure on himself.

"He (Powell) is still the world record-holder," Gay told reporters. "He still has the title, and I give him all the respect. There is no rivalry until I beat him."

* * * * *

After Saturday night's first 100-meter heat, a reporter in the media center, standing in front of a large TV monitor, looked at one of his colleagues and his jaw dropped a few centimeters. Why? He'd just watched Powell zoom to the lead and wrap up his triumphant run in cruise control, finishing it in 10.01 seconds.

"Holy smoke!" the man said excitedly. "Look at this. He (Powell) pulled up with about 20 (meters) to go."

Powell's reaction was more subdued.

"It was as I expected, nothing else," he told The Associated Press. "All is going according to my plans."

Those remarks should've come out of Gay's mouth.



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