LONDON – Asafa Powell has revealed the unusual pre-race preparation technique that he believes will help him win the mind games with Jamaican teammates Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake in the 100 meters at the Olympic Games.
Former world record holder Powell is desperate to take his friend Bolt's Olympic crown after missing out at the Beijing Games (apart from a gold medal in the 4x100 relay) where he admits he was overcome with nerves.
While Bolt thrilled the crowd at the Bird's Nest stadium with his playful antics, including the famous "to the world" archer pose that helped endear him to an international audience, Powell looked tense and tight and could not find his best form once the gun went off.
[ Video: Usain Bolt's bizarre pre-race ritual ]
To combat that, Powell devised an interesting and slightly bizarre ritual to help him stay calm at the starting blocks – something to keep him from being overwhelmed by the pressure of the moment.
"I think about engines," Powell said. "I think about cars to try to distract myself.
"It is a good way to relax, take your mind off everything. I think about what to do next, what part I am going to buy for this car, where I am going to get it from."
Powell has an extensive collection of classic cars and keeps them at his luxury home in Jamaica. He admits that what began as a hobby quickly turned into an obsession, one that has occasionally stopped him from being fully committed to track.
"Sometimes I'll be working on an engine and just skip practice," Powell told The Guardian. "I know, I'm like a kid. Maybe I was a bit to spoiled growing up."
Every sprinter has his way of getting mentally prepared to scorch down the track in search of Olympic success.
Since his return from a doping ban, 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin has taken to walking up and down repeatedly over the first few feet of his lane and muttering to himself. American teammate Tyson Gay prefers to sit on his starting block for as long as possible, breathing deeply while whispering some encouraging words to himself and visualizing what is about to happen.
Great Britain's Dwain Chambers, who is not expected to medal in the 100 here, stands with his feet together and repeatedly leaps into the air, a routine that looks exhausting but which he claims gets him loose and ready to run.
Powell has never won a major international individual gold, either at the Olympics or the world championships. But with all the attention on the showdown between established superstar Bolt and the exciting emerging talent of Blake, he believes he can pull off a long-awaited victory.
Powell easily won his first-round heat on Saturday with a time of 10.04 seconds, the fifth fastest behind Chambers (10.02), Blake (10.00), Gatlin (9.97) and American Ryan Bailey (9.88). Bolt jogged his way to a 10.09 to finish first in his heat.
"I know I have what it takes to go out there and put in on the track," he said this week. "A lot of guys will eat my dust. If I don't make the podium, I will be very disappointed."
[ Photos: Aussie hurdler's sexy warm-up routine ]
Powell's manager Paul Doyle said this week that the sprinter's preparations had been disrupted when he was awakened to conduct a blood test for doping officials, the third such test in the space of five days. Powell complained he had been weakened before his races in Beijing by having to give blood samples four times leading up to his first event.
Even so, the 29-year-old thinks his fresh and relaxed approach to the competition has him in strong position to be a contender.
"My coach told me to lighten up," Powell said. "He said everything changed when I went on the track, [that] I looked different, my eyes were red, because I was so nervous. I actually knew everything he was telling me but I didn't know what to do to really avoid getting so nervous and really thinking about the outcome of everything so much."
Thinking about engines, apparently, is the answer.
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