- Associated Press - Saturday, July 4, 2015

PARIS (AP) - Asafa Powell is getting quicker and quicker the closer the world championships get.

The former world record-holder, filling Usain Bolt’s shoes for Jamaica, ran the third-fastest 100 meters of the year at the Diamond League meeting in Paris on Saturday.

Powell’s time of 9.81 seconds improved on his previous season’s best of 9.84, which he’s managed twice this year, in May and June.

“It was a confidence booster,” he said, “but I’m always confident.”

Powell was the evening’s star attraction in the absence of Bolt. The world record-holder pulled out with a blocked joint in his left leg. Back from a doping suspension cut from 18 months to six months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, for ingesting a banned stimulant in a supplement, Powell talked before the meet about how much happier he feels after his “very difficult” ban. He certainly looked comfortable on the Stade de France track.

“A great race,” he said. “I worked on my start last week and it paid off.”

He was not the fastest out of the blocks but quickly surged to the front.

Justin Gatlin is still heading to the worlds in Beijing in August as the favorite, by virtue of his world-leading times this year of 9.74, run in May, and a 9.75 last month.

Gatlin and Powell, plus Tyson Gay, race each other next Thursday in Lausanne. Bolt, who was down to compete in the 200 meters, pulled out of that Diamond League meeting, too.

Powell says his long-term goal is to beat his personal best of 9.72, which he ran in 2008. He certainly looked like he still has more speed to come, easing off as he surged to the line comfortably ahead of Jimmy Vicaut of France, who equaled the European record with a time of 9.86. Michael Rodgers of the United States was third in 9.99.

“At the end, I got too excited and did not run that smooth,” Powell said. “That means I wanted to run faster in my next races.”

At age 32, Powell said he’s in his best shape in “maybe” the “last seven years or so.”

“And remember, age is just a number.”

In the women’s 100, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s 10.74 seconds made her the fastest woman this year.

The world and Olympic champion from Jamaica got a good start in lane five and led to the line on a hot evening.

“I have room to improve,” she said. “In my technique, in the start, I’m not satisfied with my starting reaction.”

Yet, she was comfortably quicker than the previous season’s best of 10.79, which both Fraser-Pryce and English Gardner of the United States managed last month.

There was also a year’s best of 7 minutes, 58.83 seconds in the men’s 3,000 steeplechase from Jairus Kipchoge Birech of Kenya. Orlando Ortega of Cuba also ran a 2015 world-best of 12.94 seconds in the 110 hurdles.

There were also 2015 bests in the women’s 800 from Kenya’s Eunice Sum, who ran 1 minute, 56.99 seconds, and in the men’s 1,500 from Silas Kiplagat, also from Kenya, who clocked 3:30.12, shaving more than two seconds off the previous leading mark.

Evan Jager of the United States was on course to win the steeplechase and pulverize the season’s best time but fell at the last obstacle. Birech surged past as the American picked himself up.

“I feel sorry for him,” Birech said. “This is a wake-up call for Kenya. We need to go back and train and be ready for the U.S. runner.”

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