Athletics: Powell and Carter to reign at the Palace

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The skewed glass edifice that is London's City Hall briefly hosted two of the world's most accomplished athletes yesterday. And while Asafa Powell and Xavier Carter both spoke quietly about their intentions at tonight's Norwich Union Grand Prix, no one should be in any doubt about their ability to deliver ringing performances on the Crystal Palace track.

In a year when there are neither Olympic Games nor World Championships, these two extraordinary performers are restricted to making their mark in individual meetings, and the annual gathering in south London looks likely to witness memorable deeds in the long and short sprints.

Powell has already shown Britain just what he is capable of, having equalled his own 100 metres joint world record of 9.77sec at Gateshead on 11 June in a race which should have included the other holder of that mark, Justin Gatlin.

The American controversially withdrew from the North-east event, citing the risk of bad weather, and his participation tonight has been prevented by an injury behind his knee.

Powell will still face a formidable field which includes the world silver medallist Michael Frater, Olympic silver medallist Francis Obikwelu and Olympic 200m champion Shawn Crawford. But his main race still appears likely to be against the clock.

Crystal Palace holds unfortunate memories for the Jamaican, who aggravated a groin injury 20m into last year's 100m there and was subsequently forced to miss the World Championships. He revealed yesterday he had made an immediate decision to return. "I said I was coming back again next year to run the race I wanted to run here," the amiable Powell said yesterday.

The stadium record of 9.89sec, set by Gatlin in that same race last year, looks likely to be eclipsed. As for the mark of 9.77sec ­ well, do not rule it out. Neither Powell nor his agent, Paul Doyle, are.

Doyle confirmed Gatlin's injury was making it increasingly likely that the much-anticipated match between the joint world-record holders would not occur this season, but, asked whether he expected Powell to beat the mark anyway this summer, he responded: "I do. He is an extraordinarily gifted athlete, and although you can't guarantee a world record I believe it will come."

Carter, a 20-year-old who had never left the United States until last month, has also proved himself extraordinarily gifted. His exploits this season have caused him to be mentioned not only in the same breath as Michael Johnson, multiple champion and holder of the world 200m and 400m records, but even the great Jesse Owens, whose deeds so discomfited the Nazi party at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

On the same weekend when Powell ran at Gateshead, Carter equalled Owens' record of four victories in a day at the US National Collegiate Championships, winning the 100m and 400m titles within half an hour of each other before assisting in 100m and 400m relay victories for Louisiana State University, where he will resume studying kinesiology and sports medicine at the end of next month.

Ato Boldon, the former Olympic 100m bronze medallist and world 200m champion, described Carter as a "once-in-a-lifetime talent." On 11 July, that gained in credence as he won the 200m at the Lausanne grand prix in 19.63sec, a time beaten only once before, when Johnson set his world record of 19.32sec at the 1996 Olympics.

Carter, who will face the same field tonight that took to the track in Lausanne, including his fellow American Tyson Gay, who clocked 19.70sec, believes Johnson's record is "within reach".

The athlete, who is known as "the X-Man" revealed that his friends call him "Pee Wee". "My grandma gave me the nickname when I was younger because I used to be real short," says the 6ft 3in, 14st athlete, before adding with a grin: "Then I had a growth spurt."

Britain's selectors will be looking for a number of home athletes to stand tall tonight as they prepare the final 20 names for the European Championships, which start in Gothenburg a week on Monday.

Several of the more likely challengers, including the European Cup 200m winner Christian Malcolm and Commonwealth 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, need to show fitness tonight to confirm their trips to Sweden. Others, such as the European long jump silver medallist Jade Johnson, still need to achieve qualifying marks.

One who will not be competing is Dwain Chambers, the man who won the European 100m title four years ago. Chambers, newly returned from a two-year doping ban, has failed to recover from a thigh injury he suffered at the European trials in Manchester a fortnight ago. The injury forced him to miss the final at the trials, but Chambers, who is the fastest Briton over 100 metres this year, will still be considered for selection for the team for Sweden.