Retired US sprinter Michael Johnson speaks on the second day of the Doha Goals Forum, Gathering of all Leaders in Sport, in Doha yesterday.
by Denzil Pinto
DOHA: Four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson believes athletics will never be free of drug cheats and has called for changes to make the sport more appealing to spectators.
Athletics has long been tarnished by failed drug tests, most notably sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell who had been in the headlines prior to the World Championship in August, which they later missed.
Speaking at Doha Goals, yesterday, the 46-year-old said: “Athletics has a zero tolerance policy with drugs and, in a way, we have kind of suffered because of that,” said Johnson.
He added: “Most other sports are not at the level (of drug tests). We catch more people but there are more stories and scandals about this than other sports. But at the same time I think it’s the right way. Despite that, you are never going to have a situation where no-one cheats – athletics is a microcosm of real life and in real life you will always have people who cheat. It’s unrealistic to expect athletics to be a drug free sport. Other sports may have fans that can put up with it but in athletics the fans want to see the Olympians hold true to the Olympic ideal and values.”
Considered as one of the greatest legends in the sport, the American said not much has changed now as to when he was competing in the 1990s.
The eight-time world champion said: “Nothing has really happened within a long span of time to change the sport. You are looking at ways to engage with the audience, and if you lose fans, you lose television (viewers).”
The former 400m and 200m world record holder also believes there is more focus on an athlete rather than the competition itself.
He said: “Everyone is interested in watching two people race, whether it’s two cars or horses. People want to see a race. Now athletics have moved on from the competition and more onto the personality and records. There is not enough focus on the competition rather than the athlete which is fascinating on its own.”
He added: “You can’t compare athletics to any team sport. It’s the purest form of competition. Everyone loves to see people have a race but we’re seeing too much emphasis placed on world records and not on the battle between the athletes. We must look closely at the sport and see what it is that people actually want to watch. Do we need the women’s discus? A 3,000m and 5,000m steeplechase at the same meeting? Nothing has happened to change the sport in my time. We need to look at a new format, package it better to engage more fans. Other sports have done it to increase their fan base, why can’t athletics?”
The American saw his 200m world record broken by Jamaican superstar and double Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt at the Beijing Games, and Johnson believes Bolt deserves every penny that he has earned.
“I hear people saying that Bolt shouldn’t be making so much money then what he is earning but I would disagree. He is well worth it with what he is earning,” said Johnson, who believes it is difficult to put the Jamaican superstar as the all-time greatest athlete as of now.
When asked of who was the most difficult opponent during his career, the television analyst said Frankie Fredericks. “He won silver medal at the 1992 Games and I knew every championship that he was in, I had to run my fastest.” THE PENINSULA