BEIJING: Olympic and world sprint champion Usain Bolt has been saddened by the focus on doping in the run-up to the world championships but says even he cannot save the sport by himself.
The governing International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has spent the three weeks leading up to its showpiece event, which begins on Saturday, defending its record on doping after a string of embarrassing leaks.
Britain’s Sebastian Coe was elected as new IAAF president on Wednesday and has promised to set up an independent anti-doping body for the sport.
“It’s been a lot of doping in the headlines over the last couple of months, it’s really sad that that’s where the sport is right now,” Jamaican Bolt told Reuters in an interview on the eve of his 29th birthday.
“Hopefully, the new president can change a lot of rules and make things easier for the sport to be better.
“It’s going to be hard (to get rid of doping), I think. If you make harder rules, less people will take a chance.
“But I think you will always have those one or two people who feel they can beat the system. It’s just like life, people think they can beat the system.”
In the midst of the crisis, the Beijing sprint showdown between Bolt, who has never failed a drugs test, and in-form American Justin Gatlin, who has served two suspensions for using banned substances, has been billed as a battle for the soul of the sport.
Gatlin’s second positive test, in 2006, would normally have earned him a lifetime ban but after he agreed to co-operate with the anti-doping authorities that was cut to eight, and then four years.
Bolt said he had no problem running against Gatlin if the rules said the former Olympic and world champion was eligible, and rejected the idea that, as the sport’s highest profile name, it was his responsibility to save it.
“I can’t do this by myself, it’s never going to be one single person, I just focus on what I need to do,” he said.
“I just see it as high stakes race. Two athletes competing. We are two athletes at the top of our games who have to compete. That’s how I see it.”
It was at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing that Bolt first established himself as the sport’s biggest star, winning both sprint titles and a relay gold, all in world record times, at the 2008 Olympics.
“For me, just being back here is exciting, just to be back in the country, just to be back among the people,” Bolt said.
“It’s wonderful to be back, it’s brought back a lot of memories. I’m looking forward to the same results.”
Seven years of almost complete dominance of the sprint titles at major championships have followed, the only blot being the 100 metres final in Daegu in 2011 when Bolt was disqualified for a false start.
Happy with his form for the Aug. 22-30 championships despite having raced less than he would have liked to this year because of a problem with his joints, Bolt said Gatlin would have to better his personal best of 9.74 seconds to take the 100m title.
“If he’s going to beat me, he’s going to have to run a proper fast time,” Bolt added.
“I’ve said it over the years, my aim is always to run 9.6 so he has to run 9.6 to beat me for sure.”
Bolt set 100m (9.58) and 200m (19.19) world records at the 2009 world championships in Berlin and while he might not be in the form to challenge those records, he thinks the 9.69 he ran to win Beijing gold in the shorter sprint might be within reach.
“I’m definitely in good shape, I’ve been training, I’ve slimmed down and everything has being going smoothly,” he said.
“All championships, that’s what I aim for, to win three gold medals. But to do it again in Beijing would be great. And to break the stadium record would be even better.”