Four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson scrutinized doping in track and field and the popularity of the sport outside Usain Bolt at a forum in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday.
“You are never going to have a situation where no one cheats — athletics is a microcosm of real life, and in real life you will always have people who cheat,” Johnson said, according to Xinhua News Agency. “It’s unrealistic to expect athletics to be a drug free sport.”
Johnson’s career was affected by drug cheats. The last of his Olympic victories was annulled after a member of his Sydney Olympic 4x400m relay team, the late Antonio Pettigrew, admitted in 2008 to using performance-enhancing drugs during his career.
The other members of the relay final, twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison, received drug bans years after Sydney.
“I know that the medal was not fairly won and that it is dirty, and so I have moved it from the location where I have always kept my medals because it doesn’t belong there,” Johnson wrote in a Telegraph article in 2008. “And it doesn’t belong to me. So, as difficult as it is, I will be returning it to the International Olympic Committee because I don’t want it. I feel cheated, betrayed and let down.”
In Doha, Johnson also praised Usain Bolt while at the same time calling out track and field’s governing body, the IAAF.
“You can’t say anything against Usain Bolt in athletics,” he said. “He is athletics, but the IAAF doesn’t work with him to promote the sport. Knowing him as I do, if they approached him and asked him to work with them to promote athletics — not promote Usain Bolt — I am sure he would be all for it. The IAAF is just riding it at the moment.”
But, he said, it’s the Olympics and not Bolt that “save athletics.”
“To be honest, if it weren’t for the Olympics, athletics would be dead,” Johnson said. “Off the face of the earth.”
Can that be changed?
“We must look closely at the sport and see what it is that people actually want to watch,” Johnson said. “Do we need the women’s discus? A 3,000m and 5,000m steeplechase at the same meeting? Nothing has happened to change the sport in my time. We need to look at a new format, package it better to engage more fans. Other sports have done it to increase their fan base, why can’t athletics?”