Athletics: Speed king Powell sprints into history in 9.77 seconds

Asafa Powell last night became the fastest man in athletics - on the Athens track where he suffered the worst disappointment of his career last summer.

Asafa Powell last night became the fastest man in athletics - on the Athens track where he suffered the worst disappointment of his career last summer.

The 22-year-old Jamaican produced a 100 metres time of 9.77sec - 0.01sec inside the mark Tim Montgomery set in Paris three years ago - thus claiming the world record at the venue where he finished fifth in the Olympic final last year.

If that caused anyone to doubt Powell's ability, his performances this season provided persuasive new evidence that he was the next big thing in one of the sport's blue riband events.

The 6ft 3in, 14st sports medicine student at the Kingston University of Technology already headed this year's world rankings with timings of 9.84sec and 9.85sec. He had also spoken earlier of setting a new mark on the track where Maurice Greene, the former Olympic champion, had claimed the record with 9.79sec six years earlier at the same meeting, the Tsiklitiria Super Grand Prix.

"Nothing makes up for the Olympics, but this was showing the world I could have done it," Powell said. "I am just happy to have set the record on a track where Maurice Greene also broke the world record. It is a very fast track. I knew I could break the world record." Asked whether he could run faster, Powell grinned. "If you ask what I can do more this year, you will have to wait until the end of this year's season to see."

On a warm summer's evening, a sparse crowd in the Greek capital saw Powell get off to a good start before finishing three metres ahead of Aziz Zakari from Ghana, who was second in 9.99sec, and the fellow Jamaican Michael Frater.

While Powell had a night to remember, Britain's two top sprinters underperformed. Jason Gardener produced a season's best of 10.13sec to reach the final, but finished last in 10.29sec after suffering cramp. Mark Lewis-Francis, chosen as Britain's No 1 for the European Cup in Florence this weekend, failed to reach the final, finishing sixth in his heat in 10.36sec.

Montgomery's mark was 0.01sec faster than the time Greene had achieved three years earlier in Athens. The timing of 9.79 had been set once before, however, by Ben Johnson in the 1988 Olympics. It was subsequently annulled because of a positive dope test.

Montgomery runs the risk of having his own mark annulled after the recent recommendation by the US Anti-Doping Agency that he be banned for life after his disclosures of doping abuse to a Federal Grand Jury investigating the Balco scandal. Montgomery is awaiting the result of an appeal to the Court for Arbitration in Sport. This month Greene was asked how he felt about the prospect of regaining the world record if it should be stripped from Montgomery. He responded cautiously. Perhaps he sensed that Powell was about to make the question redundant.

Five of Powell's brothers are also sprinters. One of them, Donovan, was a sprint relay team member at the Sydney Olympics. While contemporaries such as Greene and the new Olympic champion Justin Gatlin have a swagger in their step, Powell remains laid back. "I've always been taught to stay humble," he said. "I'm not the type to get caught up in the hype. I don't want to ever change that." His performance last night in the heat of Athens will put that intention to the test.

* Paula Radcliffe announced yesterday that she would double up in this weekend's European Cup at Leiria, Portugal, where Britain's women are seeking to return to the Super League after relegation. Already committed to Sunday's 5,000m, the world marathon record holder will also run the 3,000m on Saturday after an injury to Jo Pavey.

Evolution of the 100 metres world record

10.6sec Donald Lippincott (US) 1912

10.4 Charles Paddock (US) 1921

10.3 Percy Williams (Canada) 1930

10.2 Jesse Owens (US) 1936

10.1 Willie Williams (US) 1956

10.0 Armin Hary (West Germany) 1960

9.95 Jim Hines (US) 1968

9.93 Calvin Smith (US) 1983

9.92 Carl Lewis (US) 1988

9.90 Leroy Burrell (US) 1991

9.86 Lewis 1991

9.85 Burrell 1994

9.84 Donovan Bailey (Canada) 1996

9.79 Maurice Greene (US) 1999

9.78 Tim Montgomery (US) 2002

9.77 Asafa Powell (Jamaica) 2005

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