Olympic champion Lewis says track is 'in trouble'

Updated: February 25, 2007, 1:44 PM ET
Reuters

Nine-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis said Saturday the sport that made him an international celebrity has hit hard times.

"It's in trouble," the American told reporters at the USA Track & Field indoor championships in Boston, his first appearance at such an event in a decade. "When I see poker and I don't see track and field on TV -- that's a problem."

Lewis, the most outstanding sprinter and long jumper since Jesse Owens, said the sport has partly been tainted by scandals that have stripped some champions of their titles after they tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

"The vast, vast, vast majority of [the athletes] do the right thing, they don't take drugs," Lewis said. "They want to do it right.

"That's what really bothers me ... there is a minority that create problems for the sport."

Still, the 45-year-old Lewis urged today's track and field stars to clean up their act in other ways if they want to boost interest in the sport.

"It's not just about going across the finish line and getting your paycheck," he told Reuters in an interview. "[It's about] what else did you do to help your sport? What else did you do to help your community today?"

Lewis said he hopes to use his name to help promote interest in the sport after staying away for a decade.

He declined to discuss the reason for his prolonged absence.

"There were a lot of issues," he said. "It's easy to describe but it would take some time."

Lewis said that Saturday's appearance -- where he handed batons to runners before the start of a relay race -- formally marked his return to the sport.