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World-class athletes: are they born or made? - Asafa Powell's shortcomings linked to psychological process

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Dalton Myers
Ryon Jones, Sunday Gleaner Writer

Former World-record holder, Asafa Powell, has oftentimes betrayed his first name, which means to 'rise to the occasion', as he has repeatedly come up short on those big occasions. This has led to the head of sports from the two premier local educational institutions questioning his mental strength.

Anthony Davis, University of Technology's (UTech) director of sport; Dalton Myers, University of the West Indies' (UWI) director of sport; and Fitz Coleman, head coach for track and field at UWI, weighed in on Powell's shortcomings during The Gleaner's Daegu to London Editor's Forum held at the company's North Street head office last week, where the theme 'World-class athletes: are they born or made?' was explored.

Also in attendance was Dr Colin Gyles, head of the Faculty of Science and Sport, UTech.

First big disappointment

Powell's first brush with dis-appointment on the big stage came at the 2003 World Championships when he was disqualified for a false start in the semi-final - a race which is best remembered for Jon Drummond's refusal to leave the track after he too was disqualified.

Powell was the top man going into the Olympics the following year, after registering a then record-equalling nine sub-10 seconds clockings in one season, but could only manage a fifth-place finish in the final.

"Certainly, for me, I believe that Asafa is mentally weaker than many other world-class athletes," Myers stated. "There is no doubt that he has talent. Somebody who is running so many sub-10 seconds, it must be that he is much better than many other athletes. But at the point that it matters, something happens," Myers added.

Myers believes that the false start in 2003 at the Jamaican sprinter's first big final could still be having some effect on Powell's mind.

"There was a false start and he had to pull out and you can see there that something happened as he just sat looking on; probably that could have been a starting point," Myers reasoned.

"At some point, he probably will come through, but there is a psychological aspect of it that needs to be looked at. Perhaps another study needs to be done on it," he added.

Coleman reasoned that Powell has perhaps not yet come to terms with the spotlight he was thrusted into, given his rural background.

"I look at Asafa and his failings as 'here is a shy country youngster just suddenly being thrusted not only into the face of Jamaicans, but the world', and I don't think he has processed that yet, and to me, that is part of the problem," Coleman theorised.

Exceptionally talented

"But the truth be told, I think the psychological aspect of it needs to be attended to, because this guy is exceptionally talented," Coleman added.

Davis shared Myers' view that the 2003 false start could still be playing on Powell's mind, but went further to explore Powell's quiet upbringing.

"He comes from a camp with world-record holders and champions all around him, so maybe you also have to look at his background because he is a very soft, shy and withdrawn person," Davis reasoned.

"He is not an aggressive person, so maybe that has something to do with why when it comes to that moment you can't get the 'tiger' coming out of him," he added, while pointing out that UTech has done everything to enhance the performance of all their athletes, not just Powell.