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Meeting of world record-holders put on hold for near future

1 June 2006
www.wcsn.com


By Elliott Denman

Bottom line: The Justin Gatlin-Asafa Powell race for the title of "world's fastest human" won't happen until the price is right.

It's perfectly clear now that Gatlin, the American who ran off with gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, won't answer the same starting gun as Powell, the Jamaican who rocketed to the 100m world record of 9.77 seconds in Athens last June, only to see Gatlin equal it at Doha, Qatar, two weeks ago, for anything less than top dollar.

A Gatlin-Powell clash was booked for the Norwich Union Grand Prix Meet in Gateshead, England, on June 11. However, the much-anticipated showdown has evaporated in a mist of conflicting statements.

Both men ran the 100m at the Nike Prefontaine Meet last Sunday in Eugene, Oregon - and won. Due to a contractual obligation prohibiting the two sprinters from meeting prior to Gateshead, the Prefontaine organizers held two separate heats to accomodate each camp.

So they ran -- Gatlin winning his 100m in 9.88, Powell winning his in 9.93. Both were outstanding performances, but for the 13,331 fans in the historic Hayward Field seats, and a worldwide television audience, it was an exercise in frustration.

These two heavyweight stars of the world athletics tour will continue running their separate ways this weekend. Powell heads the field for the 100m at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway - the kickoff meet to the IAAF's Golden League season -- on Friday night. Brooklyn-born Gatlin will stay a lot closer to his roots when he runs the 100m at the Reebok Grand Prix meet on Saturday at Icahn Stadium, Randalls Island, New York City.

These two races were originally slated as test runs for the Gateshead meet.

But then the Gateshead race dissolved. Powell will still run in the English meet. Gatlin will not.

These two are friendly rivals. When Gatlin, 24, was originally credited with a world-record-breaking 9.76 in Doha, Powell, 23, told The Daily Gleaner newspaper in Kingston, Jamaica, "Tell Justin 'congratulations,' but the record is only on loan."

When they met in Eugene -- after their separate races -- they greeted each other warmly.

But critics of the separate-race scenario were out in force. Portland, Ore., newspaper columnist John Canzano at the front of the pack.

"Lemme get this straight," he wrote. "The two fastest men in the world won't compete against each other because you have to pay big dollars these days for that kind of exclusivity?

"On a playground, we'd call them both chickens."

"Two years ago at this [Prefontaine] event, athletes acknowledged their sport had a drug and image problem. They talked about sticking together and saving track and field. And yet, here they are again, woeful, ignorant, and with the same problems amplified."

"Never mind the standing-room-only crowd and the appearance fees Gatlin and Powell are already pocketing. The two fastest men in the world would rather race a clock than each other."

Why did Gatlin bail out of the Gatesehead race?

"For explanation, you will have to ask him and not me," Gateshead meet organizer Ian Stewart told Times of London athletics writer David Powell.

Jon Ridgeon, director of athletics for Fast Track, promoter of the Gateshead meet and other televised meets, shed more light, saying that Gatlin had been contracted to run, but not against Powell.

Stewart had flown to the U.S. to finalize details, and said that Gatlin told him: "I am happy to race anyone."

But, while in Eugene, Ore., ex-high hurdles world record-holder Renaldo Nehemiah, now Gatlin's agent, told Stewart that Gatlin would not run in Gateshead.

Other factors for the decision by Nehemiah and Gatlin might have included the strong chance of cold or rainy weather, or that it's a bit too early in the season to generate the enthusiasm they'd expect for an event of this magnitude.

But it still boiled down to the almighty dollar.

"Gatlin Pull-Out Is A Shot In The Foot," headlined Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Wrote Guardian columnist Steve Cram, the former World one-mile record-holder, "They [Nehemiah and Gatlin] probably feel the deal negotiated before his world record-equaling run [in Doha] could be bettered elsewhere, although the organizer [Fast Track] is rarely outbid.

"A defeat in June would not have been good box office."

"Gatlin and Powell are reputed to be receiving six-figure contracts for their appearances in Britain, and that sort of fee should guarantee the athlete races in a bona-fide fashion against whatever field the promoter puts together. Where contracts exist, then agents and athletes should be held accountable if they are broken without good reason."



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It's perfectly clear now that Gatlin, the American who ran off with gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, won't answer the same starting gun as Powell, the Jamaican who rocketed to the 100m world record of 9.77 seconds in Athens last June, only to see Gatlin equal it at Doha, Qatar, two weeks ago, for anything less than top dollar.
A Gatlin-Powell clash was booked for the Norwich Union Grand Prix Meet in Gateshead, England, on June 11. However, the much-anticipated showdown has evaporated in a mist of conflicting statements. " target="digg"> Digg



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