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Lewis defends Coleman, wants more prize money

New sprint champion Christian Coleman will learn from his mistake, says the legendary athlete.
Athletics Legend Carl Lewis Speaks At A Function In Doha On Monday
Athletics legend Carl Lewis speaks at a function in Doha on Monday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Christian Coleman has been under fire from many quarters over his whereabouts saga, but on Monday the American sprinting champion found support from none other Carl Lewis, a living legend of his sport.

Coleman’s triumph in the 100M at the World Championships in Doha has been overshadowed by the controversy that preceded his arrival here. The fact that he escaped on a technicality after missing three drug tests has been used to pillory him, with very little spotlight falling on his track performance.

Nine-time Olympic champion Lewis, speaking on the sidelines of an AIPS (association of international sports journalists) function in Doha, defended Coleman and said too much was being made out of the issue.

“I thought Coleman was the best in the world and he did secure that title. He didn’t succumb to pressure and ran the best race he could,” said Lewis. “We’re trying to make too much of this issue. Ultimately, they said he abided by the rules.”

Lewis, who won 100M gold medals in 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games, said Coleman had made a mistake and would learn from it.

“It’s not a drug issue. It’s about a young kid learning from his mistakes. I don’t think he’s going to miss three tests again. He’s a good kid trying to do as best as he can. We’re also in a culture where it’s easy to say, ‘oh, it’s so controversial.’ I think it’s the opposite,” said Lewis.

The legendary American defended his sport when it came to drug testing.

“Athletics is doing a good job when it comes to drug testing. If you see the performances, they seem fairer. I think we shouldn’t allow the media and the outside people to label it as bad,” he said.

Lewis’ fellow-American and another track legend, Michael Johnson, had said Coleman didn’t deserve to be the face of his sport after his brush with the rules. But Lewis preferred to ignore that notion and stressed that the sport should focus on real issues, like lack of big money for athletes.

“Michael is a very smart guy and he has his opinions. I don’t look at it that way. If you look at it, if we had a face of our sport, he has made less money in the last 10 years than what he did 10 years ago.

“We need to focus on the system. Everyone calls it a professional sport, but it’s not. It is an amateur sport with some people making money,” said Lewis, pointing to the prize money that has remained unchanged for close to two decades.

“They’re giving $60,000 to the gold medal winner (at the World Championships). It was the same for almost two decades now. So if you consider the increase in cost of living, it might be equivalent to just $30,000 now when it should be at least $90,000 plus,” said Lewis, hitting out at the International Association of Athletics Federations for not developing the sport.

“Football, basketball, baseball, cricket, they adapted to television. They became television shows. They strived to get better. At the same time, we’ve not paid attention to our presentation. The Golden League was a terrible idea, the Diamond League was a terrible idea. After they started, about 30 per cent of the other meets have gone away,” lamented Lewis.