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Thursday, March 10, 2016, 09:05

Legend Lewis rips 'pathetic' performances

By Agence France-Presse in Los Angeles
Legend Lewis rips 'pathetic' performances
In this Oct 5, 2014 file photo, US sprint and long jump legend Carl Lewis attends the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Monaco at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. (AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE)

Four-time Olympic long jump champion Carl Lewis believes the standard of competition in his signature event is at an all-time low, describing the best performances of reigning world champion Greg Rutherford as "pathetic".

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the United States Olympic team media summit on Tuesday, Lewis gave a withering assessment of the state of modern athletics, describing it as a "dying sport".

But Lewis, 54, saved his most stinging criticism for the event he made his own between 1984 and 1996, when he won four consecutive Olympic long jump gold medals, part of an overall tally of nine gold.

"The long jump is the worst event in the world right now. Awful," Lewis said.

"Jesse Owens would have been third in the last Olympics. His personal best from 80 years ago would have been good enough to get him a medal in London."

Lewis accused the top rank of modern long jumpers of not pushing hard enough to challenge Mike Powell's 25-year-old world record of 8.95 meters, set in Tokyo in 1991.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Britain's Rutherford took gold with a jump of 8.31m.

"Do you want to go and see someone jump 26 feet? They don't know how to jump. And they're not trying to because they're winning medals anyway," Lewis said.

'Have a standard'

"If I jumped 26 feet I'd walk away and say 'don't measure that, make it a foul'.

"Have a standard. You don't go to the Olympics for a medal, you go for the distance. People want to go and get a medal for jumping 26 feet? Come on.

"Mike (Powell) and me were jumping 28 feet regularly. But this generation? Rutherford? I'm sorry, but it's pathetic to me. He's won everything.

"Are you kidding me? He's doing his best. He's jumping great. But he shouldn't be winning with that."

Lewis predicted another bleak track and field campaign for America's men's team after it won just one track gold at the World Championships in Beijing last year.

"We gotta fix our house," he said.

"We hardly won any gold medals at the last Olympics on the men's side.

"Look at our world championships. Terrible. We did nothing."

Lewis blamed the decline on a lack of adequate coaching at the grassroots level.

"It's systemic in America," Lewis said. "The coach is now likely to be a math teacher rather than a PE teacher. When I get kids to college I have to fix so much about their running it's amazing to me. Kids are being taught things that are completely incorrect."

Lewis believes the US slump is part of a broader waning in interest in track and field, contrasting the low attendance figures from the 2013 World Championships in Moscow to the sport's 1980s heyday, which often played to packed stadiums.

"The world championships averages around 25,000 people a meet, 60 percent of the track meets that were around 20 years ago are gone. Sponsorship is gone.

"The sport's dying right now. When Michael Johnson, myself, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Edwin Moses - all of us left, the sport was at a pinnacle.

"It's been in a steady decline ever since. Everyone's talking about how great the sport is, but go back and look at the films of Rome or Helsinki - there were 60,000 people in the stands," Lewis said.

Olympic great wants Coe to step aside for awhile

If Carl Lewis ran the world, Sebastian Coe would not be in charge of track and field right now.

The nine-time Olympic gold medalist said he believes the sport would be better served if Coe stepped aside as leader of track's governing body, let an independent organization clean things up, and then took charge again.

"I think Seb Coe is smart enough, he's a great guy who can do this," Lewis said on Tuesday. "But at the end of the day, when you're talking about drugs and issues like this, you're talking about credibility. If he was willing to step aside and let someone independent come in and really clean this up, he'd be the perfect guy to come back in and run it."

Coe is under scrutiny because he served as a vice-president of the IAAF for years under former president Lamine Diack, who is accused of wide-ranging corruption during his tenure.

An independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency said members of the IAAF council "could not have been unaware of the extent of doping" in Russia and the breaking of anti-doping rules and "could not have been unaware of the level of nepotism" under Diack.

The report did not accuse Coe of wrongdoing.

Lewis called track and field "a hot mess".

"It's not rocket science," he said. "A lot of the countries that had issues, Diack ran to defend them immediately."

Lewis said his call for independent agencies on the worldwide scene is something he has been saying since 1987, the year before he tested positive for banned stimulants. His ban was later overturned.

"I said it 30 years ago and I'll support it now. If you don't have credibility, you don't have a sport. I think they should focus on getting the credibility."

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