Asafa Powell strolls into the lounge at the Malmaison Hotel in Birmingham – shoulders hunched, a black beanie hat pulled tight over his head – a couple of athletes are sitting in the corner, one cupping his headphones so that the other can listen to the drum and bass beat. The zither music of Anton Karas, the Viennese soundtrack to The Third Man, might have been more appropriate, given the place Powell has supposedly come to occupy in the global sprinting game.
"I don't see myself as the third man, the third best," Powell said. "I see myself as the top sprinter in the world, the No 1. I'm the No 1 sprinter this year, definitely. I'm the man to beat. That gives me confidence, the edge over everyone. I've run the fastest time this year and that is the time to beat."
Running in the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne last week, Powell – the fastest man in history until Bolt switched his attention from the 200 metres to the 100m three years ago – produced a thoroughbred performance at the shorter distance, clocking 9.78sec. It was the 28-year-old's fastest time in three years and put him at the top of the world rankings in 2011, 0.01sec ahead of the American Gay, whose season has been curtailed because of surgery on a hip problem.
Bolt, of course, has run 9.58sec for the 100m, but that was two years ago. With seven weeks to go before his world title goes on the line at the biennial global championships in Daegu, South Korea, the Lightning Bolt will have to get the better of a fellow countryman who stands third on the world all-time list. "This is the best shape I've ever been in before a championship," Powell says. "I've had a clear run, with no injuries."
His next run will be in the 100m at the Birmingham Grand Prix in front of a sold-out 12,700 crowd. The big question, though, is can he strike gold at the World Championships next month, or indeed at the Olympic Games in London next year? "I think I have a great chance, a 99 per cent chance of winning," Powell says.
The Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix tomorrow, live on BBC 2 and BBC HD (17.30-20.00). For information on the Aviva Series go uka.org.uk/aviva-series or call 08000 556 056.
9.78sec Asafa Powell (Jam) 30 June
9.79 Tyson Gay (US) 4 June
9.80 Steve Mullings (Jam) 4 June
9.85 Mike Rodgers (US) 4 June
9.88 Michael Frater (Jam) 30 June
9.89 Ngonidzashe Makusha (Zim) 10 June
9.91 Usain Bolt (US)* 26 May
9.92 Nesta Carter (Jam) 4 June
9.93 Keston Bledman (US) 4 June
9.94 Darvis Patton (Jam) 4 June
*ran same time on 5 JuneReuse content