SPORT

‘Athletics has a difficult road ahead’

Stopping the clock!Michael Johnson reacts after setting a new 200m world record in the 1996 Atlanta Games.File PhotoDoug Mills

Stopping the clock!Michael Johnson reacts after setting a new 200m world record in the 1996 Atlanta Games.File PhotoDoug Mills  

He may have had an unconventional running style — a stiff upright position — but he was known to sweep the field.

Michael Johnson, now 50, was world and Olympic record-holder in the 200 and 400m, expressed concern at the stagnation in athletics.

The bane

“Athletics today, in the format of the sport, is similar to the way when I was competing. That probably is detrimental to the sport.

“You don’t see much of a difference in the format and that is an issue that needs to change. You have to continue to refresh the sport,” he said on the sidelines of a promotional event here on Thursday.

Was there a way out? “I don’t know if it is the way out, but it is one of the things to refresh it and make the sport more relevant to the new audience.

“I think one of the things is to bring new fans to the sport.”

Athletics, after Usain Bolt’s exit, would need a new role model. Johnson agreed that people the world over came to watch Bolt.

“Athletics has a difficult path regardless of the Usain Bolt phenomenon and because of the doping menace. The sport needs to reorganise and proactively go out and try and attract new fans. Now the biggest star in the sport has retired. You need role models.

“Athletics faces compound issues but that’s not Bolt’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of the sport itself. It should have tried to modernise and combat doping well before Bolt retired.”

Hurting its image

He felt that the controversies dogging athletics, like Russia getting banned, did hurt its image.

“I think athletics has a difficult road ahead to regain the trust of the fans and to re-establish credibility as a sport.

“These are the challenges the sport faces. They won’t change in a day or a year. It is going to take some time. Huge challenges lie ahead for athletics.”

Johnson concluded that athletics was still the best test for human endurance.

“There’s no doubt that doping has become a big problem for the sport. That’s not any secret to anyone. I still believe that a majority of the athletes are clean. It [athletics] continues to be one of the best to test human endurance and human ability.”

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