Siddhartha Vaidyanathan on India in West Indies 2006 May 22, 2006

Asafa Powell - Jamaica's sprint king

The 100 metres race at the forthcoming IAAF meet at Gateshead in England, just about three weeks away, is arguably the most-hyped athletics event in recent times but Asafa Powell, the Jamaican sprint king, appears completely unfazed.

In a quiet setting in the National Stadium at Kingston, he seems unflappable, going through his paces undisturbed, preparing to take on Justin Gatlin, his arch-rival. Gatlin recently, for a few days at least, broke Asafa's record but now, after a few scientific adjustments, they stand on an equal 9.77 seconds.

When Cricinfo decided to disturb him, just for the sake of the high of speaking to the fastest man in the world, he obliges readily. He knows it's probably "the greatest race that will ever be run" but somehow manages to maintain a humorous countenance.

Asafa wants to win it for his parents, a couple whose life was enveloped by gloom when two of their sons died recently - Michael was shot, Vaughan suffered a cardiac arrest - and Asafa is keen that he wins to keep them happy. Unlike a few of his other countrymen, he didn't choose to shift to the USA, saying he preferred to be close to family. He admits that Gatlin is the physically stronger man, but feels that his speed will win the day.

And, of course, being a Jamaican, despite not having too much of an interest in the game, he can't not talk about cricket. "I used to be a fast bowler till when I was in school but didn't do much after that. I know Courtney Walsh very well and go to his restaurant pretty often. It's a tough game, you know. But very slow." Speed freak that he is, Asafa quickly gets into his Mercedes and shows his mettle, disappearing through the long driveway in what appears like a few milliseconds.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo