A crowd of 8,500 people shunned the World Cup here in Gateshead yesterday in favour of another sport. It proved to be a good decision as they witnessed the first 100 metres world-record run in this country. Asafa Powell equalled the mark of 9.77sec he shares with his American rival Justin Gatlin, who controversially withdrew from this event two weeks ago.
To add to the spectacle, Dwain Chambers re-established himself as Britain's leading sprinter by taking third place in 10.07sec in his first race since September 2003, following his doping ban - an extraordinary achievement from an athlete who has slimmed down dramatically from the bulky-thighed, low-slung figure he cut during what we now know to have been his days on the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).
On an afternoon where temperatures reached 28C and the humidity rose to 40 per cent it felt more like Powell's native Kingston, Jamaica, than Gateshead, and the 23-year-old revelled in the conditions, producing another of his massive starts before crossing the line with the appearance of ease. There was a momentary hush as spectators at the Norwich Union Grand Prix took in the figures showing on the digital clock by the finish - then a whooping roar of appreciation.
Although the record is still shared officially, the details revealed that Powell became the fastest man ever yesterday, in terms of legal timings. Just under a year after he first clocked 9.77sec, in Athens, he ran 9.762sec, marginally quicker than the time of 9.766sec Gatlin produced in Doha on 18 May. Who would have believed such a performance would occur in Gateshead, of all places? Powell's performance easily surpassed the previous all-comers' record of 9.89sec, recorded by Gatlin in London last year when the Jamaican pulled up after barely 10m with a groin injury that kept him out of the subsequent World Championships.
In the event, Gatlin's stated reasons for pulling out - that the event was too early, and that it would be too cold - have been made to look absurd.
The two are due to meet in London on 28 July. Asked if he had any message for Gatlin yesterday, Powell responded with a grin: "What about him? I guess he saw it coming and pulled out. I don't think it will be a head-to-head when we meet. I like getting out first and staying there." As he spoke, he clutched a shiny memento in his right hand - the shell from the starter's pistol. "This is for today, and for Athens as well," he added.
Powell maintained the prediction he made earlier in the week that he could probably run 9.70sec this season. "I'm going to keep to what I said. I'm going to go for it. Yes, it's possible. I'm not disappointed at not breaking the world record because it's only June. I've taken one big step towards it and now I've got to take one step further."
He said that he might have run even faster had he not slowed five metres from the line. "I've got to get out of that habit," he said. "I have not had much luck with the weather in my last couple of races, but today it was good and after 40m I felt like my old self. I felt like I was back."
Chambers, too, has that feeling after the last-minute agreement he made with the international and domestic authorities over paying back fees owed from before his period of punishment after he admitted that he had been taking THG then also. After finishing ahead of Marlon Devonish, Mark Lewis-Francis and Harry Aikines-Aryeety, he was officially offered the British 100m place at this month's European Cup in Malaga.
"I never thought I would have another day like this," he said. "I was encouraged by the reception I got from the British crowd. The past has gone, and I'm looking forward to the future. I didn't expect anything much from this season, but I have proved that I can still keep my focus and run fast."
Before his opening heat - his first competitive action since September 2003 - the organisers played the theme of Mission: Impossible. He came third, with a time of 10.33sec. The applause that greeted him was polite. That was enough, given that he had expressed fears about how he might be received. He insisted he had no regrets about admitting to taking drugs before the period covered by his suspension, even though it stands to cost him an estimated £100,000.
"Being honest was the best thing I could have done," he said. "I just wanted to set the record straight. Paying back the money is just something I've got to deal with now. I don't have a problem with it." He admitted to having "mixed emotions" about returning. "I've a good idea of the shape I'm in because I have been training for the last eight months in Jamaica. Being out for two and a half years, I've no idea how I'm going to do on the track.
"I have dreams of getting back to where I was. It is just a case of putting two or three seasons behind me and progressing from there and then I can start dreaming about being world record holder. But for now I just want to become competitive and just get myself back on the map."
Rebecca Lyne produced the other outstanding performance of the day by moving third in the all-time British 800m list behind Kelly Holmes and Kirsty Wade with a time of 1min 58.20sec. The 23-year-old was second to Kenya's Commonwealth champion, Janeth Jepkosgei.
"I didn't think I'd go that fast," said Lyne, who took more than a second off her best when winning in Hengelo two weeks ago in 2.00.04sec, and who followed up with second place behind Jepkosgei in Oslo last Friday week in 2.00.68.
Eliud Kipchoge's 3,000m victory in 7min 33.54sec eclipsed Gateshead's oldest and most famous stadium record - the 7min 35.10sec which Brendan Foster ran in the stadium's inaugural meeting on 3 August 1974.
Timing is everything: Evolution of the men's 100m record
* 10.1 Willie Williams (US) August 1956
* 10.0 Armin Hary (West Germany) June 1960
* 9.95 Jim Hines (US) October 1968
* 9.93 Calvin Smith (US) July 1983
* 9.92 Carl Lewis (US) September 1988
* 9.90 Leroy Burrell (US) June 1991
* 9.86 Lewis August 1991
* 9.85 Burrell July 1994
* 9.84 Donovan Bailey (Canada) July 1996
* 9.79 Maurice Greene (US) June 1999
* 9.78 Tim Montgomery (US) September 2002
* 9.77 Asafa Powell (Jamaica) June 2005
* 9.77 (equalled) Justin Gatlin (US) May 2006Reuse content