If an American Athlete Said 'I'm a legend,' He Would be Crucified: Carl Lewis

Saying he was very different from sprint-king Usain Bolt, Olympic legend Carl Lewis feels athletics has lost its grace and popularity is on the decline.

Reported by: Suprita Das
Last updated on Thursday, 22 May, 2014 14:58 IST
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Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis was in India as a brand ambassador of the TCS 10K World Run in Bangalore. He spoke to NDTV exclusively about issues plaguing modern track and field events, Jamaica's drug problems, and why he and Usain Bolt are different from each other. Excerpts:

On being brand ambassador of the TCS 10K run in Bangalore:

These races are important, because racing as a community is something that's growing. I've been to India a few times, to Mumbai, Delhi, Agra and now Bangalore. I've definitely noticed a difference here from 1989 to today, in terms of the running culture. You have to understand that running and track and field events are not the same. Running is a bigger issue, because it affects families and communities.

On his fabulous career spanning four Olympic Games:

Well, over 18 years, I stayed motivated by not focussing on the future. I focused on each year at a time, and then when the Olympic year came, I focused on that. I probably had the best coach in the 20th century to help me prepare for that and I stayed motivated to become better everytime, in every race, and every year. And when I got to a point when I felt I couldn't do any better, I knew it was time for me to retire. (Also read: Carl Lewis hopes for a clean sport)

On his first choice, sprint or long jump?

Oh, I was always a long jumper who sprinted. No ambiguity about that at all, the sprints were always my second and third events.

On what has changed in track and field, commercially and technically:

The reality is that it hasn't changed much. The sport has changed tremendously since I retired 17 years ago, in the sense it has become more commercial. And that's been a benefit to the athletes, because they getting better financially. But administration wise, we've had the same group of people run our sport. Technically, there is so much of emphasis on strength and power that I think athletics has lost the grace that it used to have.

On Usain Bolt and if he can run 100m under 9 seconds:

No, he can't. Nobody in our lifetime will run 100m under 9 seconds, it's not possible. But the real issue is not how fast people run, it's about how to get the sport back on track. I was very disappointed to watch the World Championships in Moscow last year, to see less than 20,000 fans on an average. To me that's the real issue. So an athlete may run 100m in not under 9 seconds, but even 8 seconds, or someone may jump 35 feet, but if nobody's watching, it doesn't really matter.

On his role to revive interest in athletics:

Well the reality is that I was fortunate to be around at a time when we had people like Michael Johnson, Edwin Moses, Jackie Joyner Kersee. These guys understood the fans, and that the fans were a part of the game. They reached out to an audience. In a lot of cases they sacrificed themselves for the better of the sport. Now, our sport has become a microcosm of our society. We used to take group pictures, now they take selfies.

On how Carl Lewis compares with Usain Bolt?

We are very different in a lot of ways. First of all, I was a long jumper, though our events seem to be similar. Long jump was always my first event, and 100m and 200m were my second and third events. Secondly, a lot of the stuff he does, there's no way an American could do that. If an American went about saying "I'm a legend", they'd be crucified. This is a different era where you can get away with a lot of stuff about yourself. It's something we could've never done.

On Jamaica's problem with doping:

Well, I spoke about that issue in 2008 and I still stand to what I say. A lot of people criticised me in 2008 for the comments that I made but I am honest about how we are supposed to make our sport better. The reality is five years later that is the exact thing that came true. I was attacked specially by the Jamaicans and Usain about my comments but all of a sudden what I said was true and everybody went silent. I don't know of any country that has had as many positive drug tests as Jamaica.

On deliberate drug violation:

Bascially, there is a provision, and there is an idea of knowing that. Because you really get to know what medication you're taking. When there is a suspension after someone gets caught, it's because they were trying to take something that is performance enhancing.

On Seoul Olympics 100m final and the gold after Ben Johnson's disqualification:

Look, history is history. At the end of the day, I ran the race that day and Ben was caught taking steroids. I actually take a lot of pride in that medal, a lot of people say that it is tainted, but I earned it the right way. People see me, they say he won 9 gold medals, nobody says 8 golds, and then one more after somebody's medal was taken away. I did the right thing, I got that medal.

On what makes a good runner, a great runner:

Well, I don't think running is the issue. What establishes people is the relevance, how relevant is an athlete. Great athletes come around all the time, athletics, football. American football, basketball, in all of them. But in our sport we don't know what the top athletes stand for, and that's something they need to work on individually to make their sport more interesting, and yes, become great.

On watching Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and which actor could play Carl Lewis:

There are some great actors no doubt, but I would love to see someone new play me. If there was ever a biopic on me, it would not be around my life, but around my family actually. I would love to see someone new, vibrant, a fresh face who is given a shot to do something different.

Story first published on: Thursday, 22 May 2014 14:28 IST

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