Los Angeles - Four-time Olympic long jump champion Carl Lewis believes the standard of competition in his signature event is at an all-time low, describing the best performances of reigning world champion Greg Rutherford as "pathetic."
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the United States Olympic team media summit on Tuesday, Lewis gave a withering assessment of the state of modern athletics, describing it as a "dying sport".
But Lewis, 54, saved his most stinging criticism for the event he made his own between 1984 and 1996, when he won four consecutive Olympic long jump gold medals, part of an overall tally of nine golds.
"The long jump is the worst event in the world right now. Awful," Lewis said.
"Jesse Owens would have been third in the last Olympics. His personal best from 80 years ago would have been good enough to get him a medal in London."
Lewis accused the top rank of modern long jumpers of not pushing hard enough to challenge Mike Powell's 25-year-old world record of 8.95 meters (29 feet 4.25 inches) set in Tokyo in 1991.
British long jumper Rutherford's winning jump at the London 2012 Olympics of 8.31m (27 ft 3ins) fell substantially short of that mark.
"Do you want to go and see someone jump 26 feet? They don't know how to jump. And they're not trying to because they're winning medals anyway," Lewis said.
"If I jumped 26 feet I'd walk away and say 'don't measure that, make it a foul'. Have a standard. You don't go to the Olympics for a medal, you go for the distance. People want to go and get a medal for jumping 26 feet? Come on.
"Mike (Powell) and me were jumping 28 feet regularly. But this generation? Rutherford? I'm sorry, but it's pathetic to me. He's won everything.
"Are you kidding me? He's doing his best. He's jumping great. But he shouldn't be winning with that."
Lewis meanwhile predicted another bleak track and field campaign for America's men's team after they won just one track gold at the World Championships in Beijing last year.
"We gotta fix our house," Lewis said. "We hardly won any gold medals at the last Olympics in the men's side.
"Look at our world championships. Terrible. We did nothing."
Lewis blamed the decline on a lack of adequate coaching at grass roots level.
"It's systemic in America," Lewis said. "The coach is now likely to be a maths teacher rather than a PE teacher. When I get kids to college I have to fix so much about their running it's amazing to me. Kids are being taught things that are completely incorrect."
Lewis believes the US decline is part of a broader waning in interest in track and field, contrasting the low attendance figures from the 2013 World Championships in Moscow to the sport's 1980s heyday, which often played out against a backdrop of packed stadiums.
"The world championships averages around 25,000 people a meet, 60 percent of the track meets that were around 20 years ago are gone. Sponsorship is gone.
"The sport's dying right now. When Michael Johnson, myself, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Edwin Moses -- all of us left, the sport was at a pinnacle.
"It's been in a steady decline ever since. Everyone's talking about how great the sport is. But go back and look at the films of Rome or Helskinki - there were 60 000 people in the stands," Lewis said.