MUMBAI, (Reuters) – World athletics has suffered from a lack of high-profile rivalries due to the growing influence of money on the sport, long jump world record holder Mike Powell has told Reuters.
Powell had a sustained rivalry with Carl Lewis and it was those duels with the nine-times Olympic gold medallist that pushed him to break Bob Beamon’s 23-year world record at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.
“Look at what I had to do … I had to break an unbreakable world record just to beat this guy,” said Powell, who was in India as an ambassador for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
“He motivated me and drove me to do big things, but at the same time in my event I had one of the best athletes of all time and at his best. He was one of the most tough-minded persons that I have ever encountered.”
While Powell’s world record has stood for 20 years, he had to settle for silver medals in the long jump at the 1988 Seoul Games and four years later in Barcelona.
Lewis bagged gold at both Olympics.
“I tell the jumpers now that ‘you guys are so lucky’. You don’t understand how difficult it was to compete when Carl was competing,” he said in an interview.
“Carl should have had the world record. He just didn’t jump enough. He only jumped three-four times a season.
“Today Carl and I are very friendly. For me he was a blessing and at the same time he was a curse,” Powell said of his former rival, who turned 50 last Friday.
The 47-year-old credited Lewis with helping him scale new heights and said he was disappointed with the lack of consistent rivalries in present day athletics.
“Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, it rarely happens that they cross paths. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “When I was competing, we felt that it was our responsibility to promote the sport.
“But I think now, maybe its part of the present generation, it’s more about ‘me’.
“They want to make sure: ‘okay, I want to make sure I get this amount of money’ instead of just ‘go for it’.
“It’s a different mentality and it saddens me.”