No sprinter can beat the clock like Asafa Powell.
It's beating opponents at major meets that gives Powell problems.
Fresh off a defeat in the 100 meters at the World Track and Field Championships in Japan, where Powell confessed to caving in to pressure, the Jamaican sprinter emphatically broke his world record in the 100 at a third-tier meet Sunday in Rieti, Italy.
Running in a preliminary race, or heat, Powell clocked 9.74 seconds to erase the mark of 9.77 he had set June 14, 2005, and tied twice last year.
"Today, I proved to the world that Asafa is back," Powell said. "I made some mistakes in [Japan], but today I competed as I normally should do."
Two weeks ago in Osaka, where he finished third behind Tyson Gay of the United States and Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas, Powell led most of the way but came apart at the end. Powell lost second place after apparently giving up when he realized he could not win.
"I tightened up. I panicked," Powell said in Japan.
Powell has yet to win a world or Olympic medal despite being the 100 favorite at the 2004 Olympics, where he finished fifth, and at the recent world championships. Injured and unable to compete at the 2005 world championships, Powell dismissed Justin Gatlin's victory by saying, "If I'm in the race, I know I would have won."
Powell said Sunday his performance in the 2007 world meet final partly was caused by being nervous because he had not competed much this season.
"That was a race I had to win, and I didn't," Powell said. "Enough. I lost. The real Powell is the one from today, not the Osaka one."
Although aided by a tailwind of 3.8 mph, close to the allowable 4.4 mph for record purposes, Powell's 9.74 was even more impressive because he eased up slightly at the end. In the final, he finished in 9.78 with a wind measured at zero.
Both races were no contest. He raced against only one 2007 world championships 100 finalist, Marc Burns of Trinidad and Tobago, who was last in Japan. Jaysuma Saidy of Norway was second to Powell in the preliminary heat in 10.07, and Michael Frater of Jamaica was second in the final in 10.03.
"I was very happy for the guy," Gay said by telephone. "He looked pretty down at worlds. I'm happy to get to see him basically redeem himself.
"What I witnessed was a guy running a very relaxed race without much competition. It didn't surprise me."
Powell became the first man in the 30-year history of fully automatic timing, which records results to hundredths of a second, to set or tie the 100 record four times. Carl Lewis of the U.S. did it three times.
Powell and Gay are scheduled to race Sunday in the Golden League meet at Brussels, Belgium, although in different events: Powell in the 100 and Gay in the 200.
Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.
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The men's 100-meter record progression:
*--* Time Name, Country Year 9.74 Asafa Powell, Jamaica 2007 9.77 Asafa Powell, Jamaica 2006 9.77 Asafa Powell, Jamaica 2006 9.77 Justin Gatlin, U.S. 2006 9.77 Asafa Powell, Jamaica 2005 9.79 Maurice Greene, U.S. 1999 9.84 Donovan Bailey, Canada 1996 9.85 Leroy Burrell, U.S. 1994 9.86 Carl Lewis, U.S. 1991 9.90 Leroy Burrell, U.S. 1991 9.92 Carl Lewis, U.S. 1988 9.93 Calvin Smith, U.S. 1983 9.95 Jim Hines, U.S. 1968 9.99 Jim Hines, U.S. 1968 10.0 Armin Hary, West Germany 1960 10.1 Willie Williams, U.S. 1956 10.2 Jesse Owens, U.S. 1936 10.3 Percy Williams, Canada 1930 10.4 Charles Paddock, U.S. 1921 10.6 Donald Lippincott, U.S. 1912 *--*