US sprint and long jump legend Carl Lewis said Monday that Asians badly needed "heroes" in track and field in their countries to become a world-class force in the high-profile sport.
"We had heroes (in the United States) when I was growing up. I saw athletes I wanted to emulate. I think that's important," Lewis told reporters in Tokyo after attending a clinic for junior athletes in Japan's tsunami-hit northeast.
"Look how many Asians there are (in the world). You can't get one fast one? There are almost two billion. It defies logic," the 51-year-old said. "When you have great athletes... you can actually use them as role models to have better athletes."
Lewis, who won nine Olympic and eight world championship gold medals in the sprints, relay and long jump from 1983 to 1996, staged the clinic with two other black American athletic greats -- Willie Banks and Mike Powell.
The trio were asked if historical and racial differences made it hard for Asians to make the last eight in athletics at last year's London Olympics. Asia accounted for only two out of 47 athletics gold medallists.
"I believe a lot of this is cultural," said Banks, 57, whose world triple-jump record of 17.97 metres stood for 10 years from 1985.
"I believe there is not an event that discriminates against a certain type of people," said the 1983 world silver medallist, adding that there must be an Asian "that can run as fast as Carl Lewis."
But the person may be playing basketball, golf, badminton and baseball right now, Banks said.
"I have a lot of African in me. I have a lot of European in me and I have a little bit of Asian in my DNA," he said. "I'm mixed. And I know these guys (Lewis and Powell) are mixed somewhere."
Powell, 49, whose world long-jump record of 8.95m set in Tokyo in 1991 still stands, said that one of the white athletes he coaches in the United States has told him he cannot beat a certain competitor because he is black.
"I said, 'Don't say that. The colour doesn't matter,'" said Powell, who won the world gold medal in 1991 and 1993 and the Olympic silver in 1988 and 1992.
"Every black person can't run fast. Every black person can't jump high. Every black person can't dance well. But some can."
"It depends on what you're striving for," he said.
The clinic was tied in with Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics against Madrid and Istanbul.
"We saw the kids yesterday. We saw hope and dreams in their eyes," Lewis said. "We just saw the energy in those kids saying, 'Gosh, the Olympics will come to our country and we have something to work for'."