Right Now, India has a Running Revolution Going On
With nine Olympic and eight World Championship gold medals, Carl Lewis is an icon of modern sport. Named the IOC’s Sportsman of the Century, Lewis was in Bangalore as the event ambassador for the TCS World 10K. Edited excerpts of an interview with Gaurav Kalra: Running is the most simplistic thing there is in sports, because everyone does it. It doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow. I love road races because it represents the core essence of sports. Right now, India has this running revolution going on. When I came here in 1989, there was no way 25,000 runners would have participated in a race like this. The idea of sports being fun, is it important to communicate this to the children? The interesting thing about this question is that in the United States, most children stop sports because it’s not fun. Our objective should be that these young people who get involved in sports, stay in in it long enough to find out if they are any good at it. In track and field, India has done well at the Asian and Commonwealth level, but has struggled at World Championships and the Olympics. What does it take to make that leap? You need people to be inspired by. The US has been successful in events that we have been traditionally good at. We were very good in the distances for the longest time. Then we had less success and guess what, we stopped winning medals. This is a country of over a billion people—there has to be a fast person, there has to be a jumper, there has to be a great thrower, there has to be a great distance runner. The problem of doping seems to have returned in the past couple of years in world athletics. What can be done? As you know, a lot of the things I talked about three or four years ago came to pass recently. I think it is up to the athletes to say, we are tired of this and we want the sport that we want because it is an athlete’s sport. I put myself out there way back in the 80s, 90s and even in 2008-9. I didn’t do it based on veiled reports, I did it on the basis of issues I knew and understood. They came true because they were right there in front of me. You did raise questions about Jamaica and now some athletes have been given bans for doping. Does that take the sheen off the nation as a sprinting superpower? It doesn’t just take off the sheen. It makes people doubt their performance. So, when you have a country that did not do any random testing six months leading up to the London Olympics and then had a tremendous Olympics, it does hurt the credibility. What is your relationship with Usain Bolt—he had said in 2012 that he’d lost respect for you? I don’t really know him. He needs to back up now and maybe respect me a little bit more because what I said was true.
When I competed, I used to look to see if the stadium was full. It was on my watch— how is your sport doing, is it growing, is it getting better, is it prospering? It is the athlete’s responsibility and I think he (Bolt) could take more of a lead in that regard. Bolt has won six Olympic gold medals. In his own mind and in the eyes of the world, he is probably a legend. How do you assess him as an athlete? What I love about our sport is that legendary status is earned over time and it’s not something that is given. When Mohammed Ali used to talk like that, it was always tongue-in-cheek. I know that as an American, we could never get away with anything like that. Can you imagine Lebron James saying, ‘I am a legend’? He wouldn’t do it, because he respects the sport and respects the other athletes.
When you see such an event, does India appear to be taking to the sport of running?