June 7, 2024
Kurt Benson

Icons, Legends, Heroes – Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin (3 minute read)

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When you make it to the pinnacle of your sport, regardless of the sport, you are in a very elite category. When you are in the top five, either dead or alive, that puts you in a completely different stratosphere. Enter Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin, two of the fastest humans in history. At Tidal League, we work with both, and as we learned about the fractured history of track and field, we knew that we had to get the two of these legends together at some point to discuss their 20+ year careers. 

When I first brought up the idea to Asafa over a year ago, he scoffed at it and said there was nothing really to talk about. I was shocked but started to dig deeper: two rivals that spent two decades competing against each other, representing Jamaica and the United States of America at the highest level. From the Olympics to World Championships to breaking world records and setting two of the top-5 fastest 100M sprint times ever recorded. It was strange that Asafa had said there was not much to talk about. 

This was because they were taught to hate each other via media, fans, track and field organizers, etc. They have known each other for more than half of their lives but never have had a conversation. Two foes that respect each other but never more than a head nod in passing. Both athletes not only had a huge rivalry but also competed in the golden era of track and field that consisted of Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, and Yohan Blake, a time that we may never see the sport reach again.

As time passed, Justin continued to bring up the possibilities of sitting down with Asafa, and with time, I became more and more enamoured with the sport and the history between the two of them; if done, we were about to do something no one else in the sport has ever done, by uniting these two legends and breaking the ice. Something the sport needs/needs because this is a sport that's very much "what have you done for me lately." Often, legends are forgotten, and the next generation of athletes don't pay homage to those that came before, let alone two of the G.O.A.T's of the sport. 

Fast forward to today, and we just wrapped up an epic week in Jamaica, where we brought Asafa and Justin together for the first conversation in their lives. 20+ years running shoulder to shoulder, not even realizing how tall or big the other is, not knowing how they sound, instead viewing each other solely as robots who competed together. We curated our schedule to have dinner the night before in a very casual setting to set the tone prior to sitting down and having a recorded conversation that the world was going to watch. 

We arrived at dinner with Justin and patiently waited for Asafa and his wife Alyshia to arrive, almost as if we were at an intervention. There was tension in the air, and none of us really knew how this was going to turn out. However, once they arrived and everyone got settled, the night went better than I'm sure any of us expected. It was like watching two pals that haven't seen each other in some time but picked up as if no time had passed. The room was loud, filled with laughter and warm vibes, and other patrons in the restaurant were doing double takes as they tried to comprehend what they were witnessing. At the end of the night, fans took pictures, but really pictures that had never been taken together prior. Justin and Asafa were smiling together and not on the track. 

The following day was jammed full with visits to the Minister of Sports and Culture, radio appearances, and, of course, the highly anticipated conversation between the two of them, followed by a lovely dinner that Alyshia prepared for all of us. When we finally got to the conversation that was filmed, it was iconic and, ultimately, the cultural significance that it carried; we were confident the track community was going to be moved. Both Justin and Asafa concluded with, "That was therapeutic." They realized that they had so much in common and almost felt as if this new friendship had been robbed of them. 

Its hard to put this all into words, but I am extremely proud of our team, Asafa and Justin, along with Alyshia and Rodney Green for making this happen. Just because rivalries exist, that doesn't mean rivals can't coexist. We proved that the sport is better off with these legends coming together and uniting to make track and field a better sport for the current athletes and the next generation. Watch the full episode below, and as we continue to follow the road to Paris with the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, be sure to check our both the Fast Lane Lifestyle, and Ready Set Go. 

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