Athletics in need of an on-track leader, feels Lewis

Bolt not fulfilling the role, says US ace

Athletics in need of an on-track leader, feels Lewis

In an era not too long ago, Frederick Carlton Lewis was the final word in sprints and long jump. Power, technique and style fused together in an irresistible amalgam in this individual whose unique gifts powered him to nine gold medals across four Olympic Games.

Fifty-two now, Lewis’ still is a firm voice on track and field matters. His achievements have raised him to the status of a legend, ensuring that he remains in limelight wherever he goes. It wasn’t any different as the superstar descended on the Bangalore track on Friday, as the brand ambassador of the TCS World 10K to be run on Sunday.

The brightest star to grace the event, the man who won four straight long jump gold medals in Olympics spoke of his early days in track and field and of the influence of his father but above all, he voiced his concern over the state of his sport, and the issues facing the athletes, including doping. 

“Internationally, the sport is facing major challenges,” said the American. “At the end of the day, the sport has to be as good as the athletes want it to be. The thing that hurts the sport is that we don’t have a real leader (on the track). For any game to succeed, someone has to be leader,” said Lewis, pointing out the Moscow World Championships as an example.

“Last year at the World Championships, it was tough watching the people in the stands. It was sad to see the stands empty. That should alarm the athletes who should think what they they need to do to make the sport better. Not only for sponsors, but for fans and people who want to support us, in order for the sport to grow. It is our job as athletes to make fans come and compete.  If the top athletes don't do their part, then we will continue to have this problem,” he said.

Lewis, a former world record holder in 100M, refused to accept that sprint king Usain Bolt was fulfilling that leadership role, despite his crowd-pulling prowess.

“He is not leading.. You think so? What are the challenges faced in athletics right now? One of the things that was great when I competed were people like Jackie Joyner Kersee, Edwin Moses who who took a stand for professionalism. In a way, they threw themselves on the sword. A lot of the distance runners, especially road runners did a lot for fighting for equal rights. Now, the focus is on personal gains,” he rued.

Lewis agreed that rivalries were important, but stressed that it was vital that the athletes stood up for each other.

“Mike Powell and I had a great rivalry, but we competed against each other for 15 years. But people are aware of only 3-4 years of that. We made the events interesting. But I really believe in my heart that if I wanted to make my sport bigger, we had to take up the issues — for the athlete who is all the way at the bottom, the fans, the press or anything. Talking about issues, I believed in it.” 

Athletics has been fighting to retain its toe-hold on the Indian scene as well, and Lewis said he was seeing encouraging signs, despite the dominance of cricket. “I think cricket is such an important fabric of your culture, I don’t think you need to make athletics as important as cricket. What is great is that right now there is a running revolution. I see that from the time I came before to now. There are 25,000 people here at the race on Sunday. Would we have had it 25 years ago? This is part a part of the future of the running that is happening in India. There is a clear path and running is growing here.”

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