As President of the IAAF, I am delighted to be able summarise the athletics competition of these Athens Games in one word – WONDERFUL!
These Games have reminded us all that the essence of athletics – a sport that has been on the Olympic programme since 776 BC – is not the pursuit of records, but straightforward competition between men and women. What has excited everyone, and what we will remember forever, is the dramatic theatre produced in so many great contests.
Although I would not normally single out individuals, I do want to pay special tribute to Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco and Kelly Holmes of Great Britain. Both athletes came to Athens, after many years at the top, with the pressure of public opinion questioning their ability to capture Olympic glory. And yet, combining their physical talents with tactical intelligence and sheer will-power, each athlete not only succeeded in winning the gold that has eluded them at previous editions of the Games, but came back a second time to snatch another victory.
El Guerrouj and Homes have certainly earned their place in the Athletics Hall of Fame, but this Olympics has also been exciting because of the emergence of so many new stars, young men and women who represent an exciting new chapter in our sport’s history.
Those who say our sport lacks the “wow factor” and needs new heroes are now living in the past. The new Olympic champion in the 400m, Jeremy Wariner (USA), is 20 years old and leaves Athens with two gold medals. In the 110m Hurdles, Liu Xiang (CHN), who is 21, is an outstanding athlete who has taken Asian athletics into a new dimension with his marvellous victory and world record equalling time of 12.91. Then there is the Russian pole vaulter, Yelena Isinbayeva, who recently turned 22, and who delighted the Olympic stadium with her charming style and world record breaking performance.
But these Games have also been shown the tremendous appeal of our sport as an appealing spectacle, with full stadiums of enthusiastic fans for virtually every session at the magnificent Olympic Stadium, the Acropolis of the 3rd Millennium.
We also had the tremendous experience of Ancient Olympia on the 18 August, where 15,000 spectators sat on grass slopes to watch the shot put competition, but we’ve also had the unique appeal of two epic marathon races finishing in the old Marble Stadium.
I’m also pleased that 197 countries are here in Athens, and that 2000 athletes are ambassadors of our sport. That figure represents 20% of ALL the competitors from ALL sports at these Games. At the time of writing, just before the start of the last event, no fewer than 65 countries have reached Olympic finals and 39 of those have won Olympic medals.
These are remarkable statistics and prove that our sport is continuing to develop at great speed in every corner of the world. With all this competition, winning a medal in athletics is a real achievement.
Just a few days ago, Mizuno, one of the world’s leading sports good manufacturers, signed an agreement with us to become an Official Partner to the World Athletics Series starting at the 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki 2005 and continuing right through to the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships in 2008. I hope that you agree that the announcement of this new agreement here in Athens sends a powerful message about the enduring value of our sport.
Last but not least, I would like to stress that, despite occasionally alarmist reports in the Media, our sport is not defensive about the ongoing war against doping. This is a war that we have been waging, occasionally alone, for more than 30 years. We invest heavily in the anti-doping programme and because we test so often, there will always be positive tests. Unfortunately, the world of athletics, like every other part of society, is not a Utopia. What we will continue to do, with increasing effort and resources, is to make it harder for those who try to cheat to get away with it. But I would also urge that a sense of perspective is maintained, and that the vast majority of athletes who are clean and who believe in Fair Play, are given space in the Media as well. Their achievements are worthy of praise and acknowledgement. I have devoted more than 50 years of my life to Athletics because of my respect for the values of our sport and for the endeavours of honest athletes. Thanks to great events like these Olympic Games in Athens, I know that our sport has tremendous fundamental strength but we will always strive, like all good athletes, to improve our performance.