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No trash talk in men's 100 dash at Olympics

Aug. 13, 2008, 10:11 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Maurice Greene or Carl Lewis would be appalled - or at least bored.

Such an array of speed in the 100 meters at the Olympics, with scant boasting to back it up.

Tyson Gay, Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell own the eight fastest dash times in history, forming a trio everyone else is eager to predict will produce as spectacular a Summer Games men's dash final Saturday as there's ever been.

Instead of hyping it, the way some of track and field's sprinters of the past would have, these guys are about as humble as could be.

U.S. record-holder Gay went way out on this limb: "If everything goes well, someone could run a pretty good time."

Thanks, Tyson.

Jamaica's Bolt - the "World's Fastest Man" - is hardly bolder, turning down interview requests in the days leading up to the biggest races of a brief-but-brilliant 100-meter career that includes breaking the world record.

Indeed, Powell, another Jamaican, is the member of the trio who has come the closest to braggadocio - that staple of sprinting - in the buildup to the preliminary heats in the 100 Friday, when track and field begins at the 91,000-seat Bird's Nest stadium.

And even the remarks from Powell, whose world mark Bolt took 2½ months ago, were relatively tame.

"A lot of people are saying that, you know, that Usain and Tyson are very strong finishers," Powell said. "But, you know, if I get out there in front of them, then no matter how hard they are finishing, they won't even close on me."

These guys simply don't draw attention with their words - even if their deeds would justify a little trash talk.

Consider: Gay is the reigning world champion at 100 and 200 meters. He ran a wind-assisted 9.68 seconds to win the 100 final at the U.S. Olympic trials in June, the lowest time recorded under any conditions. A day before, he ran a legal 9.77 in the quarterfinals to break Greene's American mark, making clear that Gay has improved what was considered the weakest part of his race, the start.

Yet Gay is only the third-quickest entrant here.

Powell held the world record of 9.77 since 2005, matching that time twice, then lowered the mark to 9.74 last year.

Along came Bolt. An emerging star in the 200, Bolt persuaded his coach to let him try the shorter sprint and made his competitive debut - yes, debut - at the 100 a mere 13 months ago, clocking a pedestrian-at-this-level 10.03 seconds.

Suddenly, Bolt became the man to beat in Beijing by following up a 9.76 in Jamaica on May 3, with a 9.72 in New York on May 31.

"Asafa Powell is a strong runner. Usain Bolt came up on the scene and lit up track. There's people who've done a lot of things no one's ever seen before," Gay said. "The 100 used to be in the 9.9-high and 10-low. That's what makes it so amazing. To know you have three guys who can run 9.7, it shows that anything's possible."

The prospect of a three-man showdown is also a rare treat in the Olympic 100 meters, which so often sets up as a head-to-head duel or a one-man show. There are, of course, others in the field: Derrick Atkins of Bahamas, the silver medalist at last year's world championships, for example, or Francis Obikwelu of Portugal, the silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Games.

The field does not include reigning Olympic dash champion Justin Gatlin, who failed to get a federal court to allow him to run at the U.S. trials despite a doping ban. Still, the specter of drugs hovers over this sport - and, particularly, this event - and Powell brought the subject up Tuesday by complaining that he's had to take four tests since arriving in China.

"It's an inconvenience. They're happy to do it, just to keep the sport clean, but it can become a hassle," said Powell's agent, Paul Doyle. "We'd love this Olympics to be about something other than doping control."

The sport's higher-ups surely feel that way also, and International Association of Athletics Federations president Lamine Diack said Wednesday he thinks the 100 could be "one of the best in history."

That's because of the three men who, 2000 Olympic silver medalist and NBC commentator Ato Boldon - as big a talker as there ever was in his day - said, "can make it the best field ever, and it can certainly be the best race ever." Although Gatlin won in 9.85 four years ago, Boldon pointed out that a 9.80 might not even earn a medal in Beijing.

There are concerns for each of the favorites.

When Gay lines up for his opening heat Friday morning, it will be his first race in nearly six weeks. He hurt his left hamstring during 200 qualifying at the Olympic trials July 5, preventing him from attempting the sprint double Bolt will seek in China.

Gay pronounced himself fit when he got to Beijing after spending time in Germany working with a doctor known for cutting-edge treatments.

Powell, too, missed time this season with an injury, a torn chest muscle, and he, too, has said he won't be hampered. What is on his mind is the way he has failed to come through on the biggest of stages in the past.

Fifth in the Athens 100 final, and third in the 2007 world championships at that distance after leading through 70 meters, Powell insists he knows what he did wrong - and that he won't let it happen once again.

At the world championships, Powell was succinct in describing how he lost his lead: "I panicked," he said at the time.

"I didn't do what I was supposed to," Powell said Tuesday. "I didn't relax and run straight through the finish line."

Knowing that, Powell said: "If I go here and think like I'm supposed to, I'll be the winner."

Like Gay, Bolt is at his first Olympics. Some wonder aloud whether Bolt, so new to the 100, can sustain his best effort through four rounds.

"That'd be my question," said top U.S. 200-meter runner Wallace Spearmon. "The issue is not how fast you can run, but how many times can you do that? How many times can you reproduce that performance?"