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Powell hopes to stay healthy ahead of world championships

Asafa-Powell

ASAFA Powell has broken the 10-second mark in the 100 metres more times than anyone in history. Only he doesn't have the titles to show for it.

Powell is hoping to stay injury-free this season and finally shed a label that's trailed him around the track -- best sprinter never to win an individual crown at a major event. He will get another chance this August at the World Championships in Moscow.

He can't remember the last time he was completely healthy. It seems he's always contending with a balky hamstring or a nagging groin ailment, like the one that caused him to pull up in the 100 at the London Games last summer.

Sometimes, Powell just can't help but wonder what he might have accomplished had he stayed healthy.

"A lot of things would've been different," the 30-year-old Powell said in a phone interview from Australia, where he was scheduled to race before withdrawing due to a tweak in his left hamstring. "I would be running a lot faster. The competitions would be a lot better, I think. I would've accomplished a lot more at World Championships. For years, I could've been winning all these World Championships, the Olympics.

"Those things, I've thought about."

There was a time not too long ago when the Jamaican sprinter ruling the track was Powell, holding the 100 world record from 2005 until Usain Bolt claimed it in 2008.

And while Bolt has captured back-to-back Olympic titles in both the 100 and 200, Powell has never won a title of his own on the biggest of stages. For all his fast times, he just can't seem to replicate that speed at worlds or the Summer Games.

Just why that is has left many puzzled.

"I think that Asafa clearly doesn't deal well with the pressure of a final," said Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic medallist and NBC sprint analyst. "Because if you lined Asafa up with the rest of the planet, I don't think there are more than one or two that should ever beat him on any given day. But when the planet lines up and it's for a championship, he hasn't been able to deliver.

"It's frustrating because if you were in a lab and you wanted to create the perfect sprinter, he would look like Asafa Powell. Physically, Asafa Powell is the perfect height, weight and build, everything for a sprinter."

Powell has finished no better than fifth in three 100-metre finals at the Olympics. Last summer in London, he pulled up early because of his groin and wound up eighth.

Also, Powell wasn't able to help the Jamaican 4x100-metre relay team defend its title. Four years earlier in Beijing, Powell brought home the gold with a strong anchor leg.

"It was hard," Powell said of sitting on the sideline as Jamaica won in a world-record time. "Brush that off and move on to the next one."

His chances of breaking through at a major meet aren't getting any easier. After all, Bolt is in his prime and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake appears to be the next big thing. The Americans still have Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay running at an elite level.

"In my expert opinion, Asafa's chances at a title are years in the rearview mirror," Boldon said. "But I've always been seen as an Asafa basher. That's not the case. In a lot of ways, he might be my favourite Jamaican sprinter of all time. ... It's just all those guys are still around and they aren't afraid of him in a championship."

Throw in the towel? Hardly.

He's practising with a different mentality this season, putting in even more work in the gym.

This from a sprinter who's gone under 10 seconds around 80 times in his career, which is more than Lewis and Greene combined. Powell broke the world mark on June 14, 2005, when he crossed the finish line in 9.77 seconds at a meet in Greece. Two years later, Powell bettered the record, going 9.74 in Italy.

That held until Bolt broke it in May 2008, eventually lowering the mark to 9.58 with his performance at worlds in 2009.

"We have a good rivalry, a friendly rivalry," said Powell, who also shares a love of cars with Bolt, and is currently restoring a dark blue 1972 Chevy Malibu. "When we're on the track, it's a serious business. Off the track, we're good."

Powell's schedule will have him competing quite a bit internationally in May and then backing off before worlds just to stay fresh.

After all, that elusive individual title would go a long way in cementing his place in track history.

"Everyone always says I'm the first one to really help Jamaica take over the world. I was the one who started that," Powell said. "Everyone remembers me for that — remembers all the times I ran. They see the potential, that I have in me to break the record. I want people to remember me as one of the greatest sprinters ever."