Michael Johnson: Athletics needs a new role model

Johnson realises the impact Usain Bolt had on the sport but the former Olympic sprinter puts the onus on the authorities to take Athletics forward. “Athletics has a difficult path regardless of the Usain Bolt phenomenon because of the doping menace.”

“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 of the sport and that is an issue that needs to change."   -  Getty Images

He may have had an unconventional running style – a stiff upright position – but he was known to sweep the field. One of the legends of athletics, Michael Johnson, now 50, a world and Olympic record holder in 200 and 400 metres, expressed concern at the stagnation that has come to impact international athletics.

“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 of the sport 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.”

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After the exit of Usain Bolt, the sport needs a new role model to maintain the healthy state he left it in. Johnson realises the impact of Bolt but puts the onus on the authorities to take Athletics forward. “Athletics has a difficult path regardless of the Usain Bolt phenomenon because of the doping menace. What we talked about that the sport needs to reorganise and proactively go out and try and attract new fans is the main thing. Now the biggest star in the sport has retired. You need role models. The sport faces compound issues but that’s not Usain Bolt’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of the sport itself. It should have been trying to modernise and combat doping well before Usain Bolt retired.”

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“I think athletics has a difficult road ahead to regain the trust of 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 sometime. 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 majority of athletes are clean. It continues to be one of the best sport to test human endurance and human ability.”