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Powell vs. Gatlin: It's inevitable

7 July 2006

By Robert Falkoff

There are those who can appreciate the highly anticipated Justin Gatlin-Asafa Powell match race in the 100 meters as pure sport.

And there are others who will appreciate it as pure business.

Before Gatlin and Powell, the co-world record holders at 9.77, inevitably settle into the starting blocks against each other to answer the question of who's the world's fastest man, words like "leverage" and "negotiations" will be tossed around so frequently it would make Don King smile. Who will show Gatlin and Powell the most money? That's the business issue that must be decided before the sporting issue of world's fastest can be determined.

With no Olympics or World Championships on the immediate horizon, the respective managers and coaches for Gatlin and Powell can feel free to posture, speculate, hype their man and ultimately drive their price for the match race as high as the market will bear. There's a talent in milking the anticipation until the dollar signs become big and bright. So, the stage belongs to the respective managers - Paul Doyle for Powell and Renaldo Nehemiah for Gatlin - before the stage is turned over to the sprinters.

If this were Hollywood and pure sport was the only factor, Gatlin and Powell could simply do what Dennis Quaid and Carl Lumbly did in the 1988 movie "Everybody's All American," which was based on a book by noted sportswriter Frank Deford and loosely portrays the life of former LSU football great Billy Cannon.

In the movie, Quaid and Lumbly are football players with great speed. The question arises as to who's faster and the two simply line up in street clothes for a match race in Lumbly's neighborhood with the onlookers enthusiastically placing their bets.

Ah, if only it were that simple in contemporary real life.

Fast Track, the organizers of the London Grand Prix, announced earlier this month that the sprint kings would go head-to-head in the 100 meters on July 28 at Crystal Palace.

Whoa, not so fast. Stephen Francis, the coach for Powell, recently told The Jamaica Gleanor there was no agreement and terms were still being worked out. Meanwhile, Powell threw another twist into the scenario while enhancing his negotiating position at the Jamaica Track & Field Championships. Switching to the 200 meters, Powell equaled the world-leading time of 19.90 this year as Wallace Spearmon was clocking that time at the USA National Championships in Indianapolis.

Those two-pronged developments prompted Doyle to say he expects European meet directors to show interest in a Powell-Spearmon showdown in the 200 meters.

Would the prospect of a Powell-Spearmon rivalry in the 200 prompt meet directors to up the ante to keep the focus on Powell and Gatlin in the 100? Stay tuned.

"We didn't have any 200 meters in the plan, but I am sure you will see him run more," Doyle told The Jamaica Observer.

Spearmon has a personal best of 19.89. The 19.90 posted by Powell last week shattered his previous best of 20.06 in the 200. Furthermore, reports said Powell eased up about 10 meters from the finish line.

"The run was not my best, it was just another race, and you haven't seen my best yet," Powell told the Observer. "This showed I can be the best in both events."

Back in Indianapolis, Gatlin was well off the world-record time, but still cruised to a 100-meter victory in 9.93 at the USA National Championships. Now, Gatlin and Powell turn their attention to the European circuit and wait for their business associates to give them the green light for the matchup everybody wants to see. Gatlin pulled out of the recent Athens Grand Prix because of what was described as a mild leg strain, but there has been no indication that his European summer season will be seriously disrupted.

It's not a question of if but when Powell and Gatlin will meet. The guys in the coats and ties have to do their job before the athletes can do their job.

It's the way of the world when big money is on the line. Pure sport can wait. Pure business comes first.

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