BEIJING • Olympic and world sprint champion Usain Bolt has been saddened by the focus on doping in the run-up to the World Championships but said it was up to all clean athletes, not just him, to save the sport.
The governing International Association of Athletics Federations (Iaaf) has spent the three weeks leading up to its showpiece event defending its record on doping after a string of embarrassing leaks.
"It's really taken centre stage," the Jamaican told a news conference yesterday.
"All I've been hearing is doping, doping, doping, all the questions have been about doping.
"It's sad that it's been at the forefront for the World Championships and not the competition."
ALL MUST CONTRIBUTE
I can't do it by myself. It's the responsibility of all the athletes to take it upon themselves to save the sport and go forward without drug cheats.
Amid the doping crisis, the sprint showdown between Bolt and in-form American Justin Gatlin, who has served two suspensions for using banned substances, has been billed as a battle for the soul of the sport.
Gatlin's second positive test, in 2006, would normally have earned him a life ban but, after he agreed to cooperate with the anti-doping authorities, that was cut to eight, and then four years.
Bolt, who turns 29 today, said he had no problem running against Gatlin if the rules say the former Olympic and world champion is eligible. But he rejected the idea that, as athletics' biggest star, it was his responsibility to save the sport.
"Initially I'm running for myself, that's what I do," he said.
"People are saying I need to win for the sport but there are a lot of other athletes out there running clean, and who have run clean throughout their whole careers.
"I can't do it by myself. It's the responsibility of all the athletes to take it upon themselves to save the sport and go forward without drug cheats."
The IAAF has come under fire in recent weeks after claims that data from 12,000 blood tests between 2001 and 2012 revealed suspicious results and that 50 Olympic and world gold medals could be tainted by drug use.
Outgoing athletics boss Lamine Diack yesterday warned that the sport could implode if it failed to win the battle against drug cheats.
"We conduct 3,000 tests a year and 200 come back positive. You focus only on the bad news," he told a news conference in Beijing a day after Britain's Sebastian Coe was elected his successor.
"But trust us, we cannot afford to have our performances in doubt. If there is any doubt, it's all over. But we are convinced 99 per cent of our athletes are clean."
Bolt has never failed a drug test, and will be hoping to create positive headlines for athletics once again.
It was at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing that he first established himself as the sport's biggest star, winning both sprint titles and a relay gold, all in world record times, at the 2008 Olympics.
Seven years of almost complete dominance of the sprint titles at major championships have followed, the only blot on his resume being the 100m final in Daegu in 2011 when he was disqualified for a false start. And he is ready to extend his reign as the world's fastest man.
"When I'm at a championships, everything comes together," he said. "I'm happy, I'm ready to go."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE