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Ben Johnson in Goa, with Salgaocar hopefuls

July 31, 2011 08:28 IST

Many label him the 'Greatest ever sprinter' -- even ahead of Usain Bolt.

Benjamin Sinclair 'Ben' Johnson, who presently runs a sports academy in Canada came calling to Goa with two of his wards -- both of whom appeared for trials for I-League champions Salgaocar.

In an exclusive free-wheeling interview, Johnson, who was stripped of the gold medal hours after winning the 100 metres at the 1988 Seoul Olympics after returning a positive test for anabolic steroid stanozolol, says football and athletics have a lot in common.

And he even had some advice for 'Thunderbolt''

What brings you to India?

I have always been fascinated by India. There is something very mystique about this land and the demographics change every 500 kms. That's amazing. I'm here with two students of my academy, Gurveer and Karanveer, both of whom are naturally gifted players. They have come for trials and what better club to find a berth for them than the current I-League champions, Salgaocar.

You have been a World champion sprinter. What prompts you to shift focus to football?

Ben JohnsonI have always loved football and even played as a striker for Toronto Links in the 1990s. Even during my peak as a sprinter, I never lost touch with football. I'm a very good athlete and believe that whatever sport one plays, it is important to be a very strong athlete.

Does football have anything common to athletics?

Obviously, it does. A lot of the basics stay the same -- like strength and endurance. One needs to be mentally strong and focused if he is to excel in any of the sports.

The Indian sporting scenario has been hard hit by doping scandals in recent times. How do you advice an athlete to go about it?

I always advise my wards to train hard and improve their endurance. Most importantly, one needs to be mentally tough. Over the years I have developed a programme which can help the players improve their physical fitness and mental aptitude. I've used them on many, including Diego Maradona, whom I trained for three weeks in 1997. Even Usain (Bolt) follows my programme.

Do you rate Usain Bolt the greatest sver sprinter of all-time?

[Ben bursts into laughter] "Naaah, I am the greatest maan!" [and he bursts into laughter again].

Where do you feel Bolt needs to improve?

I think he needs to improve his start. He also needs to work more on his flight. There's no doubt he is the best and would continue to be with his hard work and dedication.