Only stars can save athletics

Athletics can only be measured by the associated glitter of stars such as Bolt and Isinbayeva.

Track and field has enjoyed what can only be described as a spotty history over the past decade.

There have been some incredible highlights: lanky Jamaican Usain Bolt’s charismatic electricity in the sprints, our own Wayde van Niekerk digging deep in the closing stages of the 2016 Rio Olympics 400m final to eclipse the record American Michael Johnson set in the 1999 Worlds at Seville in Spain – and the Russian Tsarina of the women’s pole vault, Yelena Isinbayeva, delivering the world record she had promised the Chinese people as the only athlete left in Bejing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium in the 2008 Olympics.

No one in the packed crowd moved, magnetised by the magic of a lone woman on a mission…

Few can dispute that they stand out like beacons. But of this trio, only Van Niekerk remains active. Isinbayeva and Bolt have gone into retirement after fabled careers and the 25-year-old phenomenon’s star is hopefully still in the ascendancy – as every South African must fervently pray is the case.

Beneath these though lurks the malignant hydra of doping – a factor which saw the Russians left out of the Rio Games.

There is also a growing carapace of apathy generated by the distrust over the uncovering of yet another doping scandal.

You would have to believe, though, that micro-chipping athletes in a manner similar to that used on household pets is nothing short of barking mad.

But this is a serious suggestion from Mike Miller, the World Olympians Association chief executive to monitor the use of banned substances.

It raises ethical questions almost as momentously invasive as the athlete’s conscious decision to pass through the dark door of doping in the first place.

But clearly something has to happen, though world athletics chief Sebastian Coe’s call to bolster the survival of track and field as a spectator sport by introducing anything from franchised teams bidding for athletes to popup tracks in streets and football stadiums has the ring of charming naivety about it.

Athletics can only be measured by the associated glitter of stars such as Bolt and Isinbayeva – and it places a huge burden on those such as Van Niekerk to carry the legacy into the future.

Jon Swift

Jon Swift

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