Lewis wants to see greater success from U.S. track stars

Feb 10, 2009 - 4:49 AM By Simon Lewis PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Olympic great Carl Lewis warned that the United States is going backward in the competition for medals at London 2012.

The nine-time track and field gold medalist was speaking on Monday following the publication of a report by The Project 30 Task Force, which was commissioned by American athletics' governing body to analyze the performance of the Americans at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

USA Track & Field also asked the nine-person task force - which included Lewis, fellow former athletes and current ones as well as coaches, scientists and administrators - to chart a course for change in order to maximize the team's performance in future Olympic and World Championship competition.

"Anyone who believes that the sport is growing is delusional," Lewis said. "This report is harsh and we're going to be honest. The reality is that this sport is fading in a sea of all these other sports, but there's no reason for it to be.

"Track and field still has a tremendous amount of participation in the country. People still cover the sport and follow it, anyone can do it and it's just a heartbeat form getting back to the forefront like it has been."

Among the Task Force recommendations outlined in its 69-page report is the hiring of a general manager to oversee all matters pertaining to athlete development and performance, targeting development of technical events such as jumps and throws to achieve "30 clean medals in London 2012", and redefining the concept of being a professional sportsperson with the formation of an athletes' union.

Also being proposed is a shortening of the Olympic trials from 10 days to five, the termination of the national relay program and a strengthening of the sport's anti-doping culture.

These are all necessary measures, Lewis believes, to getting the Americans back into shape for London 2012. In Beijing, the Americans recorded just seven gold medals in track and field - their lowest return since 1976.

"Our objective is to do whatever we can to make the athletes be the best that they can be to go to the Olympics," he said. "There's a lot of money spent to send athletes to the Olympics - but it's not a right, it's a privilege.

"There are going to be some people who say, 'That's not how it is, I'm going to do it my own way,' but my attitude to that is build a bridge and get over it because we need to move forward or our sport is going backward. The United States was just so much better that it really masked the true problems. It's not that everyone is catching up, we're going backward."

USATF CEO Doug Logan called the work of the Project 30 Task Force a "monumental report" that "pulled no punches".

"At the end of the day, I think that a significant number of these recommendations, after receiving input from as wide a number of sources as we possibly can, can and will be implemented pretty quickly.

"I don't think that everyone is going to feel comfortable about it. Change never comes out of a climate of comfort and this report has and will produce a significant amount of discomfort and the change that comes with it will also produce a significant amount of discomfort. But at the end of the day, this is the only way that this institution will get better and be able to realize its full potential."

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