DAEGU, South Korea, (Reuters) – Asafa Powell has rarely, if ever, upstaged Usain Bolt but he managed it yesterday when his withdrawal from the world championships dominated a farcical Jamaican team press conference.
Bolt was the main attraction at the event which drew more than 500 media to a suburban “cultural centre” and they waited patiently as Jamaican officials opined in front of a banner proclaiming the Caribbean island “The fastest country in the world”.
Questions to the other Jamaican athletes were few and perfunctory as reporters kept their powder dry for double world and Olympic champion Bolt’s appearance on the stage.
Then, casually, sprinter Michael Frater let slip the news about Powell’s withdrawal.
“I didn’t come here expecting to run the 100 metres but unfortunately Asafa couldn’t make it,” he said.
It took a while for the significance of his comment to sink in but once it did, confusion briefly reigned in the hall.
Frater was asked to confirm his comment, which he did with a cautious nod, before the moderator intervened to prevent further questions on the subject.
Jamaican team leader Grace Jackson was then pressed about the former 100 metres world record holder but she could only manage an extended no comment.
So it was a slightly underwhelming moment when the world’s most famous track and field athlete finally took the stage to discuss his defence of his 100 and 200 metres. “This is the first I’m hearing of it,” Bolt said of Powell, who had been expected to be his main rival in the shorter of the sprints.
Bolt was thought to be vulnerable in the 100m after back injuries ended his 2010 season and his form has been mediocre this year by his own exceptional standards.
The 25-year-old conceded he was not at his very best but declared himself ready to defend his titles even if he thought he would not threaten his 100m world record of 9.58 seconds.
“This for me is a comeback season,” he said. “I need to get back to tip-top condition, I don’t think I’m in 9.5 shape at the moment.
“A lot of guys are running fast, I’m not in tip-top shape but I’m focused and I’m ready.”
After his spectacular double world record triumphs at the Beijing Olympics and last world championships in Berlin two years ago, most would say Bolt’s place in the pantheon of sprinting greats is already assured.
Bolt himself, though, is not so certain.
“I’ve said throughout the season that this world championships is going to be the first step in me becoming a legend,” he added.
“You just need to take the first step before you take the second step, which would be the Olympics.
“A lot of people have said I’m a legend but I don’t look at it like that at the moment but in two years, I’m working on it.”
Powell’s withdrawal from the 100m, later confirmed by his agent, should make Bolt’s championships a little easier but the Jamaican was certain he would be going home with both titles in any case.
“I want to be a legend,” he said. “I’m going to get it done.”