/

Track legends moved by interaction with athletes in Tohoku

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis came to Japan hoping to boost the spirits of young athletes from the Tohoku region, but the track legend says it was he who came away inspired in the end.

Lewis wrapped up a short visit to the country with a news conference on Monday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan and it was clear that the man who enjoyed so much glory in his illustrious career has not been jaded by time.

Lewis visited Sendai and Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, to take part in the two-day “Tohoku Sports Summit,” which sought to bring practical support and technical advice to young athletes and coaches from the region with the goal of producing the champions of the future.

“I could see the hopes and dreams in the eyes of the kids, and the energy in their hearts,” said the 51-year-old Lewis. “It was inspiring. Young people can inspire others.”

Lewis was joined in Japan by long jump world record holder Mike Powell, who set the mark of 8.95 meters at the world championships in Tokyo in 1991, and former triple jump world record holder Willie Banks.

Lewis also set a world mark of 9.86 seconds in winning the 100 meters at the same worlds.

The trio was invited to Japan by the Power of Sports project and two-time world 400-meter hurdles bronze medalist Dai Tamesue, who also participated in the coaching conference and training camp. There were 100 coaches in attendance at the conference on Saturday and 71 athletes at the camp on Sunday.

Powell and Banks were visibly impacted by their interaction with the athletes and coaches primarily from the region that saw nearly 20,000 people perish in the disaster two years ago.

“Japan has always had a special place in my heart,” stated Powell. “Breaking the world record here changed my life. I was impressed by how talented the kids we worked with were.”

Banks, who has had a long association with Japan, spoke eloquently about his desire to have a positive impact on a place that is close to his heart.

“I wanted to help the kids in Tohoku,” said the 57-year-old Banks. “We need to give these kids hope, love and strength. This will help them rise after the disaster.”

Tamesue, who retired last year, spoke of wanting to see “post-traumatic growth” in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“Tohoku needs heroes,” Tamesue said. “Heroes bring hope to society.”

Lewis, who won the Olympic long jump four times (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996), talked about the need for perseverance in athletics.

“You have no idea where you are going to end up,” said Lewis. “You have to go all the way. One of the reasons I did more events was that I was not sure that I could win four golds.

“You don’t want to question yourself for not trying,” he added. “You want to look back and have no regrets.”

Lewis, Powell and Banks also gave their views on the issue of corporal punishment, which is the cause of the ongoing scandal in judo here.

“Corporal punishment is not teaching, it’s a diversion,” noted Lewis. “A coach is a teacher and they should have a plan and be giving information.”

“If you want athletes to do better, you have to inspire them,” said Banks. “Coaches who use corporal punishment are doing a disservice to athletes and teams. It is usually the result of coaches who lack knowledge.”

Powell, 48, gave a blunt assessment in his opinion on the subject.

“Athletes should have fun and work hard,” he said. “Verbal harassment damages lives. Beating doesn’t help in any situation.”