By Steve Keating
LIMA (Reuters) – American sprint great Carl Lewis offered enthusiastic support for the Pan Am Games on Monday, but the nine-time Olympic champion had none for Donald Trump, branding the U.S. president a “racist” and a “misogynist”.
Lewis, who represented the United States at four Olympics and is widely regarded as one of the country’s greatest athletes, arrived in the Peruvian capital ahead of the start of the athletics competition on Tuesday.
When asked for his thoughts on equality in sport, Lewis launched into a scathing attack on Trump and his policies.
“In America we have a tremendous challenge, there are a lot of issues going on,” the 58-year-old African-American told a packed news conference.
“We have a racist president, who is prejudiced, misogynistic, who doesn’t value anyone outside of himself, so we have a major challenge in our country to deal with as well.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t fight for what is right for people, and look at others where they might not have the same opportunity, or may have been marginalized.”
Lewis will be in Peru for six days as a guest of honor and will award medals for the 100 meters sprint and men’s long jump.
While it is Lewis’ first visit to Peru, his history with the Pan Am Games stretches back to his international debut for the United States at the 1979 edition in Puerto Rico, where he won a bronze medal in the long jump.
Lewis also competed at the 1987 Games in Indianapolis, Indiana, winning double gold in the long jump and 4x100m relay.
“I turned 18 in Puerto Rico that year and it was a very important time for me,” recalled Lewis.
“My mother actually competed at the very first Pan Am Games in Argentina, and she spoke about that and how it affected her life, and in turn because of that she really wanted us to travel as kids.
“If it wasn’t for her and what she believed in, especially the empowerment of women, I would not have been in athletics, so that experience was big for our family and extremely big for me.”
Lewis was joined on stage by another U.S. sprinter and former 100m world record holder Leroy Burrell, who agreed that multi-sport events like the Pan Ams could be life changers for individual athletes and countries.
Hosting the Pan Ams for the first time, Peru has already seen some of the rewards on the medal table as they enjoy their most successful Games ever with 23 medals.
But more important for Burrell was the legacy in the form of state-of-the-art facilities that will be left behind.
“We had an opportunity to go by the stadium today and the first thing I did was call back to the U.S. and say, ‘Look at this, this is amazing, the facility is outstanding’,” said Burrell, who is now an athletics coach.
“To walk into that facility today I was amazed. That’s the foundation that a champion or two will be built on.”
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)