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ESPN The Magazine: Fast talkers

Jamaica's Asafa Powell is 24 and owns the official world record in the 100-meter sprint (9.77 seconds) and the unofficial title of world's fastest man. America's Tyson Gay is 25 and the fastest man in the world this year (9.84 seconds); twice he also ran under 9.8, only to see the times disallowed because tailwinds exceeded the limit of two meters per second.

Injuries and scheduling issues prevented the friendly rivals from meeting earlier this summer, but both will be in Osaka, Japan, at the end of the month for the track and field world championships. During a recent international conference call, The Mag got Powell and Gay revved up.

Man-to-man
Powell: Growing up running track, you feel the 100m is the event. The 100 proves who's the fastest man in the world.

Gay: I was always a 200m runner, but I wanted to run the 100 so I could prove I'm the fastest man in the world, just like Asafa.

Powell: The last time we raced was last year [Powell won]. Since then, Tyson's improved a lot, and now everybody's looking forward to the matchup. I'm going to bring my best.

Gay: I get that question often: When are you gonna race Asafa? I've read that I'm ducking Asafa or Asafa's ducking me. That's not true. The key is both of us being healthy and being physically and mentally ready in Osaka.

Powell: I know Tyson's coming, and I'm watching out for him.

Fast track
Powell: We're racing on a new [urethane] surface that's never been used at worlds.

Gay: A lot of people are saying it's extremely fast. Jeremy Wariner [the reigning Olympic 400 champ] said he wasn't even running full speed when he tried it out in May -- and he put up this year's fastest 400 time. People always ask, "Are you going to break the record?" I really believe the worlds will be a good chance to do it.

Perfect 100
Powell: Every race is about 48 steps. At the start, you try to stay low out of the blocks. Then you go to your drive phase, then to your lifting phase, at about 50 meters. After 60 meters you can't go any faster, so you're trying to stay relaxed and maintain that speed to the 100-meter mark. My toughest part has been the end. But I've worked really hard on that -- maintaining form and trying to stay relaxed.

Gay: I'm trying to work on my start. As a 200m runner, you can have a bad start and still catch up. You don't have room for mistakes in the 100.

Powell: When you're head-to-head with one or two guys, the natural reaction is to try harder to go faster. It will mess you up. Start to finish, don't pay attention to anyone. It's just you.

Gay: It's scientifically proved that if you relax, you run faster. I'm still trying to understand it.

Powell: You have to visualize, make the race happen before it actually does. At 50 meters, I'm thinking, Lift! Lift! And, Swing your arms! That's the only thing going through my mind.

Gay: The big thing is not changing anything when you get out there. You've got to practice the same thing over and over, so it's basically muscle memory. For me, the perfect race is more a feeling, not necessarily the time -- a race where I feel at ease, like I'm not trying.

Film study
Powell: It's been a while since I watched tape of myself. I've seen the world-record races a couple of times -- not by choice. They've come on TV when I was watching.

Gay: I watch a little more film because I'm making a lot more mistakes, especially on my starts. It just so happens that my personal records have come when Asafa was in the race, so while I'm watching myself, I get a chance to see things he does that are technically sound. Best of both worlds.

Straight dope

Gay: I'm not mad at Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin [Montgomery's record was stripped for his connection to BALCO; Gatlin, who ran a 9.77 in 2006, tested positive for a banned substance], but the outcome was extremely bad for the sport, extremely bad for America. People compare track and field to cycling.

Powell: It hurt my record. When Justin and I were competing, we were the top guys in the event. He tested positive, and the world starts to pinpoint the next guy, which is me. Now people say, If Justin was on drugs, then Asafa must be on drugs too. That's very hard.

Gay: If you happen to be the fastest man in the world, you're going to be pinpointed. You know, the NFL has so many teams and players, so there's a tendency to overlook it if a player gets caught. Track is such an individual sport that if one person takes something, it makes the whole sport look bad.

Gay: I don't have a diet. Today I ate Pizza Hut. McDonald's is one of my favorite restaurants. But as I get older, I'm realizing that weight has a tendency to stick a little more. I'm going to be changing some habits soon.

Powell: I just eat like regular people. I try to eat as much Jamaican food as I possibly can: a lot of chicken, rice and dumplings. I go with what's worked.

Powell: I don't get all excited before a race; that's not me. I was brought up in the church. I was raised to be humble.

Gay: I've run against Maurice Greene, and I liked watching him bring some excitement to the sport. Seeing him get hyped gave me some adrenaline as well. Now I keep it on the inside. Before races, I listen to music. When I was younger I would listen to some R&B or rap music to get my adrenaline pumping, but I'd be tired before I'd even run because I'd been jumping around. Now I try to relax -- spiritual music, mellow music. It's really worked for me the past two years, so if I leave my MP3 player at home, I'm most likely panicking.

Powell: Not me. The only music I listen to is the gun.

Luke Cyphers is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.