The Electronic Telegraph
Monday 28 April 2003
Morality missing as Lewis seeks refuge in numbers
By Sebastian Coe:
"Thank you, America, but what about the television coverage?", read the T-shirt that Daley Thompson revealed on his lap of honour. Thompson had defended his Olympic decathlon title after a great competition in Los Angeles in 1984.
He had, for the first time in his career, "looked over the cliff and not liked what he had seen". So bleak was the view from the top that he threw
the discus six feet further than he had ever thrown it before leaving Jurgen Hingsen, his German rival for so many years, to build upon his fine and growing collection of silver.
Daley was not done in his celebrations. Halfway down the back straight he changed gear and threw political correctness to the wind in a country
that created the concept. Another T-shirt appeared. "Is the world's second greatest athlete gay?" it read, leaving his friends smiling, the bulk of the stadium bemused and the hacks slavering over the £50 notes of journalistic
Daley rode the storm, Carl Lewis refused to comment and I was ambushed.
At my post-race press conference the American journalists were outraged. "What did you think about Mr Thompson's T-shirt?" was their first
question. "I only hope he's not referring to me," I responded, which only went a little way to lighten the atmosphere. I could have told them Lewis had got away lightly.
A couple of days before the decathlon, Thompson unveiled a T-shirt that did not make it to the victory lap. Mercifully, even he thought it was a
little over the top.
Lewis finished his 1984 Olympic campaign with four titles and was compared to his hero, Jesse Owens. Whether Lewis is gay is, of course, an irrelevance. But we might wonder whether he really was "the world's second greatest athlete" after last week's revelations from a disaffected employee of the United States Olympic Committee that Lewis, along with others, failed a drugs test weeks before his second Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988.
Surprised? Not really. The same accusations were made four years earlier in Los Angeles when another disgruntled employee lifted the lid on this murky American scene. In the build-up to Los Angeles the International Olympic Committee were forced to lean heavily on their colleagues in the US to implement even the most rudimentary drug-testing programme. In 1981 American Ben Plucknett, who broke the world record in the discus, was banned for testing positive.
Not only did the US federation refuse to enforce the ban but they made him their athlete of the year. And only a few years after that an agent to
an American track world record holder who had failed a dope test in Europe received an apology from the US federation with the comforting words: "If the test had taken place here you'd never have heard about it."
You do not have to wander too far to encounter Lewis's counterparts from the Sixties and Seventies who are very open about the 'additives' that made the difference then.
How many more disaffected employees is it going to take before the full
scale and scope of the problem is realised?
It is a depressing scene. The bulk of the sport is clean and there is a growing realisation by competitors and administrators that unless the
punters believe that what they are watching is genuine, they will find other things to watch. But when the sport gets it wrong, boy, does it get it
Could Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery really not see that endorsing Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson's disgraced coach, would do nothing for them or the
status or credibility of our sport?
Does Denise Lewis really need the undoubted but forever tainted qualities of the former East German throwing coach, Ekkart Arbeit, as has been
reported, to resuscitate her Olympic dreams?
In Arbeit's and the East German athletes' defence, they were part of a repressive political regime who used sport to bolster their international
status, and the athletes who Arbeit drugged would have known little or nothing about it in their formative years. Francis, with all the benefits of
a liberal democracy, had no such excuse.
World drug agencies labour all year round to police, prosecute and educate while many of our top athletes spend time away from the training track visiting schools and clubs to spread the message. It is even more worrying if Jones and Lewis cannot see why people choose to enter the moral maze on these issues.
Lewis's response to the recent accusation tells me he is not one of them. "I did nothing more than everyone else." That may be a refuge, but it is
not a defence. I do not expect an apology but a touch of contrition might be nice.
And for the good guys in the sport, our coaches and educators, last week's revelations make their task even harder. And for many of our young
athletes the world must look a confused place of blurred moral and ethical boundaries.
Not long ago I sat with a group of past athletes. The conversation inevitably touched on the scourge of drugs in sport. And in the defence of a
high-profile competitor - not, I hasten to add, from track and field - one of the group argued that the misdemeanor occurred "pre-testing".
"Oh yes?" replied Daley Thompson. "But was it pre-morality?"