No use asking Carl Lewis to make bold predictions about what Usain Bolt might do at the next Olympics. The nine-time gold medalist is still having trouble processing what the Jamaican sprinter did at the last one.
“A lot of people’s breath has been taken away,” Lewis said on Monday. “I’m still coming to grips with that.”
As to the question of who in the US might challenge Bolt in London next year — Lewis takes the vaguely optimistic view.
“My main focus is saying: ‘Hey, we always have to think someone will come up,’” Lewis said.
Even 15 years after leaving the sport, Lewis remains the US’ iconic figure in a track world that grew increasingly troubled after his departure.
By setting the 100m record three times in the span of 15 months in 2008 and 2009 — lowering it from 9.74 seconds to 9.58 — Bolt has redefined the sport’s landscape.
“Really kind of bizarre,” Lewis described the rapid lowering of the world record. “It’s hard to follow what’s going on. Kind of crazy the way the sport’s become.”
Instead of focusing on that, Lewis is busy running for the state legislature in New Jersey, where his candidacy is being challenged in the courts because of the state’s four-year residency requirement. He keeps his hand in track, mainly trying to influence the younger side of the sport.
He’s working for the Hershey’s Track and Field Games, a 34-year-old program that draws millions of kids into track and field. The North American Final meet takes place on Aug. 6 in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“It’s why I deal with youth — there are no issues, no drama,” he said. “All the drama is whether you win or not, and 10 minutes later, whether you did or not, you go get your chocolate.”
If only things were that simple at the elite level.
In the aftermath of the 2008 Olympics, in which the US track and field team won only 23 medals, Lewis was asked to be part of a task force that explored what went wrong.
The Project 30 report — named as such because of a goal set by former USA Track and Field (USATF) chief executive Doug Logan to win 30 medals at the London Olympics — identified a number of structural flaws inside the team.
With the Olympics starting a year from today, Lewis isn’t completely convinced all the issues have been straightened out.
“The reality is that we’re talking about 30 medals and we still haven’t figured out how to pass the baton” in relays, he said. “The last two championships, the men have not passed the baton. That’s a huge problem. We had two gold medals that were guaranteed all the time and now we can’t get a medal, period.”
Faulty passes cost the men medals in the 400m relay at both the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 worlds. The women dropped the baton in 2008 and didn’t finish in 2009 when Muna Lee pulled up with a hamstring injury.
USATF are making changes this year, requiring relay sprinters to participate in three training camps and at least two races in the lead-up to world championships. How the US fare in South Korea next month will play a big role in shaping the strategy for the Olympics next year.
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