Yet the sprinter who believes – with some justification – he has a gift which no one can match insisted here that he still possesses the talent to down Usain Bolt in Olympic year.
As Rome remained abuzz about Bolt’s potential vulnerability following his slowest ever 100 metres final run in Ostrava last Friday, the great Jamaican’s unquestionably brilliant but underachieving compatriot, Powell, was left reflecting that if the triple Olympic champion runs as badly again tonight at the Golden Gala Diamond League meeting, he will be ready to inflict his first individual sprint defeat for 18 months.
It is tempting to think that Powell, the former world record holder who has broken 10 seconds for 100m more than any other – 75 and counting – but who has so often lost his form and nerve when it counts most, has at 29 blown his best chance.
Yet Powell is adamant that, after working feverishly on the mental side of his racing, he can still beat the world. “I don’t think I need to remind people that I’ve never gone away,” he said. “If I do here what I do in practice, no one can beat me. And that includes the Olympic Games.”
And that includes Bolt too. One would imagine Powell must be bearing far too many scars to imagine he can defeat the legend in London, what with a career head-to-head race record which reads Bolt 9, Powell 1.
Except there is another way of looking at this seemingly damning stat. For apart from last year’s World Championship final at Daegu, where Bolt false-started, only two men have ever defeated the great man in a 100m final. One is Tyson Gay, in Stockholm two years ago; Powell is the other, also in the Swedish capital just before the Beijing Olympics.
“It’s important that I do know what it’s like to beat Bolt. The fact I’ve only beaten him once doesn’t discourage me. I compete with him a lot. If I avoided him, maybe like other sprinters have, then the score between us would not look so bad, but I keep trying to compete with him and to find out his weaknesses. You cannot beat a man who keeps trying.”
In truth, though, Powell knows where the biggest battle lies. “I have to beat myself,” he says. His natural ability is divine; no one makes it look easier or more graceful when he is flowing out in front but no one has the capacity to tighten more glaringly when rivals loom alongside at 60 or 70 metres.
His problem? “I think too much,” he said. “Sometimes I get distracted, maybe looking out for Usain or Tyson Gay’s fast finish. I need to take that out of my head, run my own race and there’ll be no catching me. I’ve been working on it a lot with my coach, Stephen Francis, acting as my psychologist.”
Francis knows his man’s weakness is mental. But Powell will not have it that he chokes, insisting no one has been unluckier with injuries. “The world still hasn’t seen the best of me,” says a man who still fancies he can top his four year-old best of 9.72sec.
This season, he was a fraction behind Justin Gatlin in Doha in 9.88sec, a time which, with a less favourable following wind, effectively equates to Bolt’s world-leading 9.82sec. “I feel good and whatever anyone else thinks, I do believe. You just try, try and try until you succeed. Yes, I keep trying and I still believe.”