Carl Lewis Monumental PR Gaffe Bites Back

Carl Lewis at the green carpet for the Save the World Awards 2009

In 2008, Carl Lewis was a bit skeptical about Usain Bolt’s performance, suggesting that running 10.03 one year and 9.69 the next was suspicious. (Photo: Carl Lewis at the World Awards 2009, by Manfred Werner)

Is Carl Lewis right to snap at Jamaican drug testing procedures after testing positive himself three times before the 1988 Olympics? His claim of inadvertent use convinced the USOC to lift a ban for his participation in the Seoul Olympics, and the great athlete continued his path to glory. But when Usain Bolt emerged as an Olympic champion in 2008, Lewis lost his mind, and he was not the only one:

“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,” said Lewis immediately after Beijing.

He went on questioning the Jamaican drug testing program as a whole, suggesting that all Jamaican athletes were somehow flouting the rules.

“Countries like Jamaica do not have a random program, so they can go months without being tested. I’m not saying anyone is on anything, but everyone needs to be on a level playing field.”

The article appeared in a 2008 edition of Sports Illustrated, and stirred a lot of controversy back then. But after winning the 200 men’s final at London 2012, Bolt responded aggressively when asked to compare himself to Lewis.

The “Lighting Bolt” told the media that he had no respect for Lewis, because the things the American track and field athlete said about Jamaican sprinters were very “downgrading.” He suggested that Lewis was just looking for attention, because the media was no longer speaking so much about him. And Bolt was right to snap back, because he has never tested positive for banned substances.

“Without a doubt (we are drug-free). We train hard. We work hard, we show up every day,” Bolt said. “We get injuries, we have to take ice baths. When people doubt us it’s hard. We are trying hard to show the world we run clean.”

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt in an iconic pose. (Image via Usain Bolt on Facebook)

But Blake, the Beast, was banned for three months in 2009 by Jamaica’s anti-doping agency for testing positive for a stimulant, that same agency Lewis insinuated that was not good enough. And yesterday, JADCo went to defend its professionalism in the local media: testing is done at least 5 times per week 40 weeks a year during the season as well as the off season, according to Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCo) Doping Control Officer, Dr Paul Wright.

And Blake admitted his mistake, but said that things have changed since 2009, and that he was now clean: In life you have hurdles and I got mine out of the way early.

American media is now pointing fingers at Bolt, describing him as “the most toweringly arrogant, endlessly cocky, thoroughly likeable guy in sports”  and  suggesting that Bolt’s popularity will go down in America, because he attacked an American icon.

Bolt didn’t start the war with Lewis. But he continued it. He did because Dick Pound the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), said once that Bolt’s performances were suspicious:

“It’s short of suspicion: I would never go out and say I’m suspicious of his results, but they’re so remarkable that even though he is 6-foot-whatever-he-is and runs like a cat rather than a tank in the old steroidal model, the improvement is so far off the curve that you have to wonder if it’s entirely natural. I hope it is — but you wonder. That’s the price you pay for allowing this doping to get out of control.”

Let’s not dismiss Victor Conte, founder and president of BALCO, a sports nutrition center in California, which produced and supplied once-undetectable designer steroids to many superstar athletes, who said earlier this week that that “60 percent of athletes at the Games were on drugs” and earlier in 2011 that Bolt and other Jamaicans used illegal methods to achieve gold medal-winning success during the Beijing Olympics. He based his statements on some secret information that Jamaicans were using the same designer steroids he created at BALCO. He also said that current anti-doping procedures were inept.

No one has any proof that Bolt’s performances are other than clean, yet the rumors go stronger, somehow downgrading athletic performance that appears to most of us superhuman. And it is a pity that there is so much doubt around Olympic athletes of any kind. Doubt and rumors take away from their moment, fill them with pain, and sadness, when they probably don’t deserve it.

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