Sport

Lewis not coping with 'Boltmania'

FROM THE SPORTS DESK

With Hartley Anderson

Sunday, August 19, 2012    

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THE London Olympic Games are now behind us but will remain a pleasant and lingering memory.

As the post mortem continues on the spectacle which attracted record audiences around the world, the consensus is that the English capital delivered a well-organised event rivalling its predecessors, with a slew of heroes providing a fitting exclamation point.

Having secured our best medal haul (12) in the rich history of the Olympic Games, Jamaica was undoubtedly one of the success stories of the event and its athletes the most popular and sought-after among journalists and the public at large.

This comes in the wake of the 2008 Beijing Games where, after being on the periphery of greatness for what seemed an eternity, Jamaica finally exploded with six athletics gold medals for a grand total of 11. This contrasts starkly with the sporadic triumphs and excessive disappointments we've had in preceding years.

Understandably, the cumulative 23 medals of the past two Games has catapulted Jamaica into the mainstream of both the media and the athletics world and cemented our claim as the sprint capital — ahead of the United States, against which such standards are judged.

However, our celebrated recent eruption has not come without a measure of suspicion and controversy. The latest was the hasty assertion by IOC member Dick Pound that Jamaican athletes are difficult to test for drugs use on account of being hard to find.

While this claim has since been somewhat dispelled, courtesy of a timely admission by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that it is satisfied with the level of compliance by the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO), it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

It is finger-pointing in an atmosphere already rife with suspicion and sensitivity and further, is totally unwarranted in the face of inadequate proof of misconduct of any kind on Jamaica's part.

Long haunted by the scourge of drugs use among its athletes, the sport has had to engage in a desperate rescue mission over the past few years in an attempt to salvage its waning credibility and reputation.

Here, the emergence of superstar Usain Bolt, with his unbelievable exploits and unprecedented showmanship, proved invaluable in redeeming the sport in the eyes of the public.

Clearly, however, some individuals will never be gracious enough to acknowledge true greatness, or are willing to give a man his fair due. For, while we admit that there will be detractors wherever success abides, American legend Carl Lewis has over the past couple of years developed a puzzling tendency of questioning the legitimacy of Jamaica's sprinting legacy.

One recalls that back in 2008 Lewis, a multiple Olympic gold medallist, was suspicious about Bolt's sudden rise to stardom, using the latter's surge from a modest 10.03 seconds to 9.69 over 100m in a one-year span as his thesis statement.

In the aftermath of Bolt's record feats in Beijing, Lewis — who himself failed three drugs tests ahead of the 1988 Seoul Games — told the Daily Telegraph:

"When people ask me about Bolt, I say he could be the greatest athlete of all time. But for someone to run 10.03 one year and 9.69 the next, if you don't question that in a sport that has the reputation it has right now, you're a fool. Period."

After London, the scathing Lewis was at it again, this time questioning the standard and legitimacy of the drugs-testing system in Jamaica and insinuating that its athletes could be using performance-enhancing substances.

While Lewis' outbursts is a demonstration of a lack of emotional intelligence in being overshadowed by the greatest sprinter of all time, it should also place our local authorities and athletes on high alert.

For, logic suggests that the latter group will now be tested more than ever before and the former required to provide enhanced accountability for which, in the interest of credibility and longevity, they must be prepared.

On another note, our recent athletics successes, along with the creditable showing from swimmer Alia Atkinson, have prompted calls for our participation in more sports at the Olympics — the latest coming from Minister with responsibility for Sports, Natalie Neita-Headley.

In a nutshell, the affable minister is arguing for a new thrust aimed at other sports apart from track and field at the Games and suggested that the various sporting bodies should start thinking along those lines. A respectable suggestion, one should, nonetheless, examine the practicality of this idea at this time when funds are indeed scarce.

The truth is that Jamaica has now attained what we have long been striving for in athletics and absolutely nothing must stand in the way of its progress. Focusing on the so-called minor sports is commendable, but must definitely not happen at the expense of a tried and proven discipline which offers so much to the country.

In fact, I would suggest that the athletics programme be intensified not only with further international recognition in mind, but also with a view to making important economic gains at a time when our flagging economy is in urgent need of an injection.

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