Sports

Powell has been hero all along

Heroes don't seem so heroic these days.

Each time the masses crown the next superstar, he or she lets us down. I mean, sainthood isn't expected here, but a little decency or fair play would help.

Alas, the latest crop has cheated, or drugged, or broken the law, or behaved boorishly or simply dumbed down the human condition.

Check the list: Barry Bonds, Tim Montgomery, Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Floyd Landis and Michael Vick. Each time, the chronology goes thus: greatness followed by meltdown.

Believe what you see, at your own risk.

As we step through these fast-running waters, it's instructional for Modestans to value one important truth: American discus record-holder and two-time Olympian Suzy Powell, the city's most decorated modern-day athlete, will not embarrass you.

In 2007, this counts for something.

Powell, 31, has been a world-class athlete for more than a decade. She's felt the predictable highs and lows -- touching on both extremes this year -- but always has conducted herself with nothing short of dignity and competitive zeal. She was named the women's team captain this year at the World Track and Field Championships, a title given only to those who've earned the most respect.

More important, Powell insists -- and always has -- she's pharmaceutically clean. Yes, we've been shocked before and, yes, it's too bad those who play by the rules must shout it from the mountaintops, lest their names begin circling the drain. That said, there's never been a whisper of a question about Powell.

And, as she's always said, "I gotta look at myself in the morning."

We issue the reminder because Powell soon will enter the final phase of her blue-chip career. She says her retirement is "possible" following the Olympics next year in Beijing, China, though the 2009 World Championships in Berlin are still in play.

Neverless, the end appears in sight for the athlete who first tossed the platter when she was 5. Her decision is provocative because, in her event, athletes stay competitive deep into their 30s. Germany's Franka Dietzsch won her third world discus title earlier this year. She turns 40 in January.

Still, real life appears to be tugging at Powell's ponytail. She married Tim Roos in 2004, and they've considered starting a family. Three-time champion Aretha Thurmond gave birth last June and, barely two weeks later, competed at the USA Outdoors.

"I'll be 31 next year for the Olympics. What will be in my heart next year? Will I have the determination and the things that are required to train at a high level?" Powell said this week. "It's a very selfish task. To have children (and compete) can be done but will I want to do that?"

Then she answered her own questions.

"I don't think I would waste my time, or my coach's time, or my sponsors' help, if I didn't think I could medal next summer," Powell said. "I know I have what it takes."

The first half of this year validated Powell's recent plan. It began with a watershed moment -- her national-record throw of 220 feet that rode the Maui wind. For her, it was sweet redemption, five years after her 227-10 in La Jolla was disallowed due to a sloping sector.

Powell's momentum continued when she won her second USA Outdoors (her first title since 1996), ending a frustrating run of near-misses at the nationals. She was back, three long years after a hamstring injury cost her a third trip to the Games.

"It was a process. It didn't happen overnight," she said. "After the 2005 Nationals, we sat down and mapped out a plan for '08."

Powell replaced her coach -- her father Mac Powell -- with the respected Dan Pfaff. They opted toward high-volume workouts and sought more power from Powell, who's smaller than her colleagues and always relied on her velocity in the ring.

Then, like a broadway show suddenly bolting its doors, her breakthrough year closed as fast as it opened. She failed to qualify for the finals of the World Championships, where she's never finished higher than ninth.

"A huge disappointment, "Powell reviewed. "There was no panic or anxiousness. It was a very methodical experience, but it didn't go far enough. In some ways, it was inexplicable to me."

Powell soon will huddle with Pfaff and resume training for her career homestretch. We already know she wasn't kidding when, after her painful exit from the 2004 Olympic Trials, she vowed, "I'm not done."

Like any good entertainer, she's targeting a big finish.

"I know I can get better and stronger," she said. "There are certain things we can do better, like throwing farther later (in the season)."

Regardless, she's a hero we can trust.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

  Comments