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ROME (AP) — Former world record-holder Asafa Powell is just as nervous as current holder Usain Bolt ahead of their 100-meter showdown at the Golden Gala meet on Thursday.It’s the Diamond League season debut for both Jamaicans, and Bolt recently acknowledged that he’s “slightly nervous” for the first time in his career.
“That makes two of us, because it’s pretty much our first real competition,” Powell said Wednesday. “Every sprinter when they’re going to run their first competition they’re a bit nervous about seeing where they’re at, or if they forget how to run.
“I’m just going out to give my best, just go all out and see what the results will be.”
Since Powell set a world record of 9.74 seconds in 2007 in Rieti, Italy, Bolt has broken the mark three times. The most recent record of 9.58 came at the 2009 world championships in Berlin.
European champion Christophe Lemaitre of France is also in the 100-meter field for the annual meet the Stadio Olimpico.
“I want to keep up with them at the start, so I don’t get left behind like last year,” Lemaitre said. “In terms of a time, I want to try to run around 10.0 or less if the conditions are there.”
Lemaitre’s personal best is a 9.97.
American sprinters Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross will go head-to-head in the 200 and 400 in the space of 45 minutes.
“It’s going to be an extremely difficult double because there are amazing fields — not only Sanya,” Felix said. “Both races are stacked.”
Felix is the world champion in the 200, while Richards-Ross holds the title in the 400.
Powell held the world record for three years between June 2005 and May 2008, when Bolt became the world’s fastest man.
Bolt has beaten Powell in eight of their nine meetings, with Powell’s only win coming in Stockholm in 2008.
Never one to get too riled up, Powell answered courteously each time a reporter asked him about Bolt.
“Bolt is the man now, so there’s definitely questions about him,” Powell said, taking off his dark sunglasses as he sat down in front of a huge photo of Bolt. “I don’t mind. I know what to say and I know how to answer to those questions.”
Powell also said that Bolt’s performances have pushed him “to work harder than you normally do.”
Richards-Ross missed most of last year with a quadriceps injury, and ran a relatively slow 51.62 this month in Kingston, Jamaica.
“I’m just getting the rust off. I kind of felt I was on a training run in Jamaica and I hope to change that here,” Richards-Ross said. “Most of the time we don’t have the 2 and the 4 at the same meet, so the opportunity to do that here is something I’m looking forward to.”
This will be Bolt’s first race since losing to Tyson Gay in Stockholm last August, ending his two-year unbeaten streak. He said he’s added more muscle mass during offseason training.
Bolt pointed to his flexed biceps to prove the point during his packed news conference. Powell told a smaller crowd a day later that he hasn’t been observing his rival’s new physique.
“Well I wasn’t looking so closely to see. But it’s always good to put on some muscles,” said Powell, who still appears more muscular than the tall and lanky Bolt. “Maybe he’s really using the gym right now. Maybe it’s a good thing.”
Powell is running for the eighth time in Rome, while this marks Bolt’s debut. Last year here, Powell won in 9.82 and Lemaitre edged fellow Frenchman Martial Mbandjock in a photo finish for second in 10.09.
All three runners are preparing for the Aug. 27-Sept. 4 world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
Powell has never won an individual gold medal at a worlds or Olympics.
“It’s a step by step thing for world championships, you have competitions leading up and you have to really get your times down and get in shape,” he said.
Lemaitre may also race the 200 at worlds. Bolt said the Frenchman has the potential to be among the best if he stays focused on himself.
“That’s nice of him,” said Lemaitre, who turns 21 next month. “He’s right on one hand — I have to focus on myself, take one step at a time, and give my all in every race. I’m still young and I can still improve.”
However, matching what Bolt has accomplished seems nearly impossible.
“To be like him you have to be a triple world (and Olympic) champion and world record holder, so it’s going to be a bit difficult,” Lemaitre said.
The star-studded field also features shot put world champion Christian Cantwell of the United States and Olympic javelin gold medalist Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic.
Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic, the 2010 world athlete of the year, is also looking to prepare for worlds after skipping the indoor season.