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He has broken the 100m world record twice and has clocked below 10 seconds in the event no less than 80 times, a feat no-one else has come close to equaling. That notwithstanding, he has no individual World or Olympic gold medal to show for his celebrated performances and pedigree. His only hardware at that level are a World Championship bronze medal in 2011 and a sprint relay gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In another area, Asafa Powell is a winner: Jamaicans picked him the sexiest male athlete on the rock. His charm, his laid-back coolness, his seemingly shy demeanor, and his physical built combine as a force that continues to attract women. However, talking about his sex-symbol status used to make him uncomfortable. He once told a lifestyle magazine: “Sometimes I don’t want to be seen that way. But sometimes I guess it’s good for the ego.”
Despite the frustrations some fans voice over Asafa’s inability in major competitions, he is still well-liked. Just listen to the crowd reaction at the mere appearance of his face on the giant screen in the Kingston National Stadium; they go wild. And when his name is called in the line-up, things turn into a state of frenzy. The 6-ft-3-in hunk has capitalized on his physical attributes to become the first Jamaican male athlete to have stripped down for a calendar which he launched in October 2013 “for the ladies.”
“Safa,” as his parents call him, initially played soccer and did not achieve superstardom by going through the highly competitive high school track and field ranks like almost all Jamaican athletes. However, at 18 years old he anchored the Jamaica 4×1 team to silver behind Britain at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England. Since then, he has become known as the relay anchorman, known for his terrific closing speed. He owns the unofficial world record on that leg at 8.70secs, which he clocked at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
At the 2011 Penn Relays, however, Powell showed that he isn’t just an anchorman; he did lead-off duties for his country and acquitted himself well. The power sprinter, known for his rocket starts and classic sprinting style, lived up to his reputation, leaving the blocks better than anyone in the world. In a stunning sprint display, Powell left the American Walter Dix trailing and closed the stagger on the rest of the field before handing off ahead of all and sundry.
The talk in the end was not about how Jamaica had won but that Powell was being groomed to run the first leg at the Daegu Worlds, an idea he said he felt quite comfortable doing. But another injury struck Powell, and he was not seen in that race or in the 100m, his pet event. Then in 2012, Powell later hinted that London could be his last Olympics, even though he noted at the time that at 29 he was not worried about time running out on him. He had tried new things early in the year in preparation for London; he even returned to the indoor track after eight years to sharpen his technique.
As the last child of five brothers, Powell has always been close to his parents and siblings. Hope sprang eternal for him as he started the 2012 indoor season with a bang and continued the 2012 season in memory of his brothers, Michael and Vaughn, who died within a year of each other, early in his career. He believed he could win gold for them in London if he were to relax and run his race correctly. But that was not to be. His long-standing groin injury resurfaced and stopped him in his track at the London Olympics.
After a brilliant start in the Olympic final, the old monkey on Powell’s back forced him to stop running halfway down the track. Once again, he was out of an Olympic medal.