Track and field legend Carl Lewis described the crowd’s booing of American Justin Gatlin ahead of the 100m – something that’s likely to be repeated in the 200m semis on Wednesday and final on Thursday – as inappropriate.
Gatlin has twice served a doping ban, and the crowd did not hold back in showing their displeasure on Sunday night.
“I thought it was inappropriate. I think the whole thing is that everyone is trying to have it both ways,” said Lewis, who claimed a remarkable nine Olympic gold medals during his career that spanned 17 years.
“The bottom line is he’s abiding by the rules, but then we’re mad about the rules. So I think it was inappropriate. I don’t think it’s fair that people in the sport – they set rules, they set situations and then they turn around and complain about people.
“If you don’t want them to be there, then change the rule. And I think the powers that be in the sport who publicly speak out against him – it’s just unfair.
“I’m not defending him, I’m defending what’s right. What’s right it that you treat people with dignity and I don’t think he was treated with much dignity and whether it was Sunday or any time – I think the public is given a pass to do that because the powers that be in our sport speak out against him. Well, it’s your rules.”
That dignity was certainly not afforded to French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie in Monday night’s final which was won by Brazil’s Thiago da Silva. It that had nothing to do with sports authorities, rather a passionate home crowd who simply couldn’t hold themselves back.
There was jeering and whistling when Lavillenie was jumping, Brazilians in attendance willing the defending champion to fail, which he eventually did but not before giving the crowd the thumbs down before his final attempt.
“It is the first time I saw this kind of crowd, I have competed in many, many competitions, in many, many countries and it is the first time everyone is against not only me, but all the pole vaulters apart from the Brazilian,” complained Lavillenie afterwards.
“There is no respect, there is no fair play. If we have no respect in the Olympics, where can we have it? I am very, very sad and disappointed about the Brazilian public which was in the stadium today.
“You see it in football. It is the first time I have seen it in track and field. It is the biggest moment of your life. I can’t be happy about that. Now I have to wait four years to get back the gold.
“For the Olympics it is not a good image. I did nothing to the Brazilians. In 1936 [at the Berlin Olympic Games] the crowd was against American Jesse Owens. We’ve not seen this since. We have to deal with it.”
Lavillenie later apologised on Twitter for the Owens comment, but still could not hide the disappointment with the treatment he endured.