Usain Bolt’s reign as the Olympic champion and world record holder in both the 100m and 200m has lasted a mere few weeks before questions over the veracity of his achievements overtook the fleet-footed Jamaican.
And while behind-the-scenes whispers have featured in the wake of all record-setting performances on the track in recent years, few insiders would give voice to these without a positive drugs test to back up the doubts.
However, the absence of a positive test has not stopped Carl Lewis, the retired American sprinter who dominated the sport through much of the 1980s, from expressing strong doubts over Bolt’s mesmerising performances in Beijing. Speaking to US magazine Sports Illustarted, Lewis based his statements on the relative absence of stringent drug-testing programmes in Bolt’s native Jamaica.
“No one is accusing anyone. But don’t live by a different rule and expect the same kind of respect. They (Jamaican track officials) say, “Oh, we’ve been great for the sport.” No, you have not. No country has had that kind of dominance. I’m not saying they’ve done anything for certain. I don’t know. But how dare anybody feel that there shouldn’t be scrutiny, especially in our sport?
“The reality is that if I were running now, and had the performances I had in my past, I would expect them to say something. I wouldn’t even be offended at the question. So when people ask me about Bolt, I say he could be the greatest athlete of all-time. But for someone to run 10.03 one year and 9.69 the next, if you don’t question that in a sport that has the reputation it has right now, you’re a fool. Period.”
Lewis, who was cleared of positive tests for stimulants ahead of the 1988 Olympics, added that sprinting’s recent past should automatically raise doubts over any extarordinary performance on the track. And Bolt’s runs in Beijing were certainly that.
“Let’s be real. Let me go through the list: Ben Johnson, Justin Gatlin, Tim Montgomery, Tyson Gay and the two Jamaicans. Six people have run under 9.80 legally, three have tested positive, and one had a year out,” Lewis said.
“Not to say [Bolt] is doing anything, but he’s not going to have me saying he’s great and then two years later he gets popped. If I don’t trust it, what does the public think?”
For their part, the IOC ensured that Jamaican sprinters were chosen for blood-testing in Beijing, but none returned positive tests.
Lewis also questioned the performances of Jamaica’s female sprinters who like their male compatriots also train in the absence of a random drug-teasting programme.
“I’m proud of America right now because we have the best random and most comprehensive drug testing program. Countries like Jamaica do not have a random program, so they can go months without being tested. I’m not saying anyone is on anything, but everyone needs to be on a level playing field.
“Veronica Campbell-Brown lives in the United States and has been transparent and consistent. She won the worlds last year in the 100 metres and this year can’t even make the (Jamaican) team. Are you going to tell me that shouldn’t be questioned?”
Lewis’ comments are likely to case a stir in Jamaica as well as much of the athletics world but the winner of nine Olympic gold medals is unrepentant.
“People forget that I was the first one to speak out about Ben [Johnson], and I got crucified,” Lewis said. “A year later, I was a prophet. The athletes have to say, ‘No, this isn’t right.’ They know who’s on it. They need to step up.”
Thus far, no one has leaving Lewis on his own.