Track legend Carl Lewis says doping fight must start in childhood

Peter Stebbings

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Olympic track and field legend Carl Lewis said Sunday that the fight against doping must start in childhood and believes the blanket ban on Russian athletes at the Rio Games will make the tainted sport cleaner.

The American, who won 10 Olympic medals, nine of them gold, also says it is incumbent on the biggest names in athletics to lead the fight against the drug cheats who overshadowed the build-up to the Games.

The IAAF, athletics' governing body, hit Russia with a wholesale ban on its track and field team for rampant doping last November and a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report last month laid bare the extent of state-sponsored cheating across Russian sports.

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Speaking in Rio hours ahead of the blue-riband 100m sprint that he once graced -- he declined to say if he thought Jamaican star Usain Bolt would retain his title -- Lewis told AFP he fully supported the "bold" IAAF move.

"I think it is something that will make an effect and have a difference in the sport in the future," he said.

But he added: "Our sport needs to be led by athletes. If you want to make your sport strong and clean, the athletes have to make that decision."

Speaking at a Nike event to showcase an "Olympic village" for children wanting to play sport in a Rio neighbourhood, he said: "When you start with kids this age, getting into sport, teaching them what sport is about, then it gives a better chance that they will grow up and be a cleaner athlete.

"Most of the athletes are clean, but you really have to start at their age."

Lewis declined to rekindle a war of words with sprint king Bolt, who has said that he had "lost all respect" for the American, who has in the past raised doubts about the stringency of Jamaica's drug-testing programme.

"I'm a 55-year-old man with a 21-year-old son. It's his time, my time is over. I wish the best for him," said Lewis.

Lewis, who was a world and Olympic champion sprinter and long jumper, has spoken out strongly in the past about what he perceives as the poor quality of the current long-jump competition.

Fellow American Jeff Henderson snatched Olympic gold in the event in Rio on Saturday, but Lewis said it will still crying out for someone to really shine.

"I'm hoping they can jump farther," Lewis said, after Henderson managed a best of 8.38 metres -- well short of the world and Olympic records.

"The reality is that someone is going to have to break it and jump far to make everyone else jump far. Who is going to be the one that jumps far and focus on just that and be excellent?" he asked.

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