Faster than Usain Bolt? Asafa Powell's outrageous 4x100m relay leg at 2008 Olympics

  • Kobe Tong
Powell wins at Beijing 2008.

Asafa Powell must have felt as though he lived in Usain Bolt’s shadow near the back end of his career.

It’s easy to forget that it was Powell who became the first Jamaican in the 21st century to break the men’s 100-metre world record, only for Bolt to come along and blow his markers out of the water.

Powell had crowned himself the fastest human being on record no less four times between 2005 and 2007, first breaking the record in 9.77 seconds before eventually lowering the historic clocking down to 9.74.

Bolt taking over from Powell

As such, Powell is always assured of a place in the athletics history books, but he won’t feature as prominently as he might have done had not Bolt come along and nabbed the record in 2008.

The Olympic legend first outdid his compatriot with a time of 9.72 seconds in New York, before setting the world record of 9.58 that we know and admire today at the 2009 World Athletics Championships.

However, in between those historic runs, Bolt also posted his second 100m record to the tune of 9.69 seconds during the 2008 Olympic final at Beijing where Powell disappointed down in fifth place.

What endures as a crowning achievement for Bolt where he basically jogged across the line by celebrating with 20 metres to spare therefore proved to be a crushing moment for Powell, underlining his disappointing performances in the biggest races of all.

Bolt wins at Beijing 2008.
General Sport – Beijing 2008 Olympic Games – Beijing, China – 16/8/08 Athletics – Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates winning the gold and breaking the 100m world record Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Brandon Malone Livepic PLEASE NOTE: FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

4x100m relay in Beijing

Well, at least in individual events, that is, because Powell still had time for one last flourish in the Beijing limelight at a competition which truly signalled Bolt inheriting his ‘world’s fastest man’ mantle.

And that came during the 4×100-metre relay final at the Olympics where Jamaica initially won the gold medal in a world record time of 37.10 seconds which was later invalidated due to Nesta Carter testing positive for a prohibited substance.

Nevertheless, the achievements of Bolt and Powell in the final two legs still endure as some of the most breath-taking examples of speed that track and field has ever seen.

Jamaica's Bolt and Powell.
General Sport – Beijing 2008 Olympic Games – Beijing, China – 22/8/08 Athletics – Mens 4x100m relay – (L-R) Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Nesta Carter celebrate after winning gold and breaking the world record Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Brandon Malone Livepic PLEASE NOTE: FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Powell’s head-spinning relay leg

And while you might be used to Bolt bringing the baton home for Jamaica as he did for the majority of his career, it was actually Powell who ran the anchor leg at the Bird’s Nest Stadium having only recently seen his world record bested.

Fittingly, it proved to be an extraordinary showcase for what Powell could deliver in his prime, actually achieving the impossible and upstaging Bolt with a split that athletics will never forget.

That’s because Powell delivered a head-spinning time of 8.68 seconds that could well be the fastest 4x100m relay leg that any human has delivered – and trust us when we say it looks just as electric to the eye.

So be sure to check out one of very few times that Bolt has ever been upstaged by watching the race where Powell delivered a relay leg for the ages in the timeless footage down below:

Insane, absolutely insane.

Faster than Bolt?

Now, for clarity, the clocking of 8.68 was concluded upon by coach and journalist Pierre-Jean Vazel as part of a 2014 article for SpeedEndurance in which he analysed footage at 100 frames per second.

He found that to be the unofficial world record for a 4x100m final leg at the time over Bolt’s anchor run at the 2013 World Athletics Championships in which he clocked a time of 8.69 seconds.

However, it’s important to stress that there are little to no official timings for relay legs with only the overall team time going down in the record books and second or third legs were not taken into consideration.

Powell wins the 4x100m relay.
General Sport – Beijing 2008 Olympic Games – Beijing, China – 22/8/08 Athletics – Mens 4x100m relay – Asafa Powell of the Jamaica team in action Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Brandon Malone Livepic PLEASE NOTE: FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

And it also needs to be mentioned that Bolt was once touted to have run 8.65 seconds while bringing it home for Jamaica at the 2015 IAAF World Relays despite actually losing to the USA.

But a great deal of doubt has been cast over that clocking with Vazel himself replying to a tweet in 2018 saying that Powell’s time remains unbeaten due to Bolt’s 8.65 being recorded as a result of a ‘faulty baton transponder time’.

So perhaps this is one unique area where Powell not only upstaged Bolt on the day, but also in the history books all these years later.

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