UH greats see more for sport
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder Carl Lewis was a pioneer for the sport of track and field.
He was one of the first Americans to ascend the sport from an amateur level to a professional one, allowing athletes to gain endorsements and compete on the international stage.
Despite the progress made, Lewis feels track and field still has some maturing to do. Lewis and others want it to receive the same treatment as other professional sports.
“Television has changed the dynamics of everything the last 20 years. Twenty years ago, the Internet was not here; television was not the same,” Lewis said. “The big sports got so much bigger because of television. Sports like track and field have declined so dramatically.
“I think the future depends on how to recreate a narrative, and how to create your own message. It’s still run like an amateur sport, and that’s the problem.”
Former UH head coach Tom Tellez still coaches post-collegiate athletes and said the professional circuit lacks the structure needed to reach greater heights.
“They need to get more organized. You got to treat track and field like they do other professional sports,” Tellez said. “The bottom line is they probably have to have more financing from corporations. Advertise and promote — I think we’re lacking in that area.”
Despite the dark cloud lingering over track and field due to performance-enhancing drug problems, Lewis is satisfied with how the U.S. has handled the issue.
“The difficulty is not the image, because that can always be overcome,” Lewis said. “The sport does a great job here in America fighting that drug problem. The bigger issue is the sport got to a point, for a 10-year period, where people were doing nothing but taking drugs, and we come out of it with no athletes and coaches.”
Lewis also shared his thougts on the significance of coaches’ knowledge. Being a former athlete is beneficial, but Lewis said that it is a necessity for coaches to also understand the science of track and field.
“What’s really killing the sport is all these people who are retiring and coaching the next year. They really do not have the background. They’re not qualified,” Lewis said. “You need to have more than, ‘I ran and I was good.’ You don’t just need to know how to do workouts, to be a coach. You need to understand physiology; how the body works.
“You would not see a person retire from the NFL and the next year, he’s a head coach. But in our sport we have athletes who retire and two years later, they’re coaching the best athletes in the world.”
UH head track and field coach Leroy Burrell said he agrees with Lewis’ mentality.
“The best coaches have an understanding of the artistic side and the scientific side,” Burrell said. “If you throw in the fact they may have some competitive experience, that helps.”
Tellez, a former coach of Lewis and Burrell, has followed this same formula and is still a student of the sport.
“If you don’t have a background, you better do some studying. If you run that helps, but you still have to know the biomechanics of running. You still have to read about what da Vinci did; Copernicus, Galileo and Newton,” Tellez said. “You got to know it doesn’t work 20 different ways. It works one way the best. If you don’t know what that way is, you’re not helping kids anymore.
“It definitely helps me as a coach to give the best I can to the athletes to make them the best athlete they want to be.”