Former US track stars visit Japan's tsunami-stricken region
March 25, 2013
TOKYO — During a visit to Japan’s tsunami-stricken coast last week, former U.S. track and field stars Carl Lewis, Mike Powell and Willie Banks showed the region’s people what it takes to be Olympic champions.
Lewis, one of America’s all-time greatest track and field athletes, and his former fellow competitors said Monday they believe sports can have a transformative effect on the people of Tohoku, where nearly 19,000 lost their lives and many more lost their livelihoods in the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.
On Saturday in Sendai, the athletes met with 400 people, including athletes and coaches, and discussed how the region could eventually produce Olympic medalists of its own. The following day, the athletes held a sports camp in Ishinomaki, one of the hardest-hit cities.
“It easy to say ‘I’m only going to go so far, I’ll just quit,’ ” said Lewis, a four-time Olympian who won nine gold medals. “The first thing we tell young people is, ‘You may as well go all the way’ … when you get old like us, you want to look back and say, ‘I did it all. I have no regrets.’ ”
Banks, a two-time Olympian and former triple jump world record holder, said the trio joined with Japanese Olympian hurdler Dai Tamesue to inspire Japan’s athletes. Banks said he saw potential for success among Japan’s resilient youth.
“I don’t know that there’s another culture in the world that has the perseverance that the Japanese culture has,” Banks said.
Banks added that the group also hopes to encourage coaches to be role models for their athletes, a hot-button issue for Japan in recent months because of the violent methods used by some coaches. In January, a high school student committed suicide after repeated beatings by his high-school basketball coach. Last week, the Japanese Judo Federation lost funding after 15 female athletes accused coaches of beatings.
Each of the Olympic athletes agreed Monday that coaches who use physical or verbal abuse are not only wrong, they are sabotaging their athletes’ performances.
“They’re damaging them not just for their season, but for their lives,” said Powell, a three-time Olympian and current long jump world record holder.