Stop thinking small - Bordin
Athletics may have emerged with an improved image from the Beijing Olympics following the rise to prominence of Usain Bolt, but, in Europe the sport is in crisis.
This is the opinion of Gelindo Bordin, the Olympic gold medal winner at the Seoul Games marathon in 1988 and a legend of the sport.
He was in Malta yesterday on a visit organised by Diadora, the company where Bordin is a marketing executive.
"It is difficult for people to identify with the sport when they see the track and field finals and there is barely a European in there," he told a news conference in Birkirkara.
"The federations have to find a way to communicate with young people, to make athletics more appealing to them. Times have changed and athletics has to go with them. When I was young, athletics allowed me to visit different places and countries which was great for me.
"Yet, today every kid goes for a holiday every now and then so it no longer holds that appeal.
"We have to find our voice and speak to the new generation in a different manner."
"As it stands, we have a lot of middle-aged people who are coming into the sport predominantly in long distances but not enough youngsters. Even here in Malta," he continued.
"I had a training session with a group of athletes and they were almost all middle-aged. They have passion and commitment but the sport needs more.
"You have to look at swimming and how it is managing to attract more people. Some of Italy's young swimmers also model for Armani which sends out a completely different message to youngsters. It makes the sport appear to be more attractive.
"We have to start changing how the sport is seen and we must do that quickly because the gap between Europe and other nations has started to become very big."
Bordin, who had earlier held a training session with two of Malta's foremost long distance athletes in Jonathan Balzan and Mario Pisani, also spoke of the talent in Malta.
"Why can't Malta win a gold medal some day?" he asked.
"I think that the most difficult obstacle is your history which sets a mindset where you don't think that it is possible. The challenge is to beat that belief. I'm sure that you're still thinking small.
"If you aim for the national record in the marathon that is 2:26, then that is your limit. However, if someone convinces you that you must target a 2:11 time then you will shift focus. Of course, the gap between the two is considerable to make up if you are already 36 but not if you are young and still starting out.
"You have to give athletes the opportunities and coaching needed to let them achieve that target but goals have to shift."
Those views were echoed by Has Kesra, the Dutch coach of Mellieħa AC who has been training Maltese athletes for the past 12 years.
"There is definitely talent," he said. "However in Malta, like the rest of Europe, it is difficult to attract youths to sport. Also there doesn't seem to be the desire and determination to keep on pushing oneself.
"You have to have both a dream and the drive to keep on doing more. It is also important to know how to manage your failure. I've coached a Maltese athlete who I'm convinced can do a marathon in 2:15. However, as soon as he didn't do as well as expected, he gave up and turned to another sport.
"There isn't the ability to learn from mistakes and work on improving them."
Yesterday, Bordin was nominated honorary president of Mellieħa AC.
"It is an honour," he said before half-jokingly instructing the club's committee that "the next time I'm here I want to see some young long distance runners".