On track for gold.
Not since the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, when Bob Beamon shocked even himself by advancing the world record nearly two feet, has any athlete even approached Beamon's epochal long jump of 29'2-1/2". Except, that is, for one Carl Lewis.
Lewis, 23, already owns the world indoor record in the event with a leap of 28'1". His jump of 28'10-1/4" last spring in the USA/Mobil Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis was the second-best long jump in history and the best ever recorded at a nonmountainous altitude. (Beamon's leap occurred at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet, where reduced air resistance doubtless enhanced his performance.) A world-class sprinter who combines rare speed with excellent technique, Lewis regularly jumps in the 28-foot range.
"Whenever he wants to break the record, he'll do it," says his coach of five years, Tom Tellez. "He's ready.)
Lewis, the son of a pair of Willingboro, New Jersey, track coaches, may have already broken Beamon's mark by the time the XXIII Summer Games roll around. Yet even if that is the case, he will remain a center of attention, one of his country's best hopes for capturing Olympic gold--and not only in the long jump. For, in a world of narrow specialists, Carl Lewis positively delights in defying convention.
Most track-and-field athletes concentrate their energies on single events; rarely does a jumper compete in races or vice versa. Lewis, though, is an exception to that rule and may compete in several events; sprints, the long jump and the 400-meter relay race in the Los Angeles games.
"I like to do a lot of things," says the second-fastest man ever to run the 200-meter dash and the third-fastest man ever to run the 100-meter dash, as well as the first American athlete since 1886 to win titles in both sprints and the long jump in the national championship meet. "I always have. I don't like to go to a track meet, run one event and watch. I've always liked to be part of the show."
Then there is the example set by Lewis' hero, the late Jesse Owens, who won gold medals in four events--the long jump, 100- and 200-meter dashes and the 400-meter relay--at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Owens' feat has yet to be duplicated. "That is a motivation in part," acknowledges Lewis' mother, Evelyn. "And the challenge of doing it. I think that is a high motivating factor--Carl loves a challenge."
Almost since the day in 1979 when he arrived at the University of Houston, the 6'2", 180-pound Carl Lewis has been compared to Owens. In his first two years in college he won six national championships, four in the long jump and two in the sprints, and became the first athlete since Owens in 1936 to win titles in both track and field events in the same year.
So dominant was Lewis in 1981 in the long jump, his favorite event, that he set a world indoor record and then went undefeated outdoors. His outdoor jump of 28'3-1/2" was the second-best ever recorded to that time. He also set a record in the almost-forgotten 60-yard dash and ran 100 meters in ten seconds flat, the fastest time in history at sea level, all of which earned him the Sullivan Memorial Trophy, emblematic of the year's outstanding American amateur athlete.
And that was just the beginning. In 1982 Lewis again ran 100 meters in ten seconds flat and again leaped more than 28 feet. In January 1983 he became the first man ever to jump 28 feet indoors; he broke his own world record and actually surpassed the gold-medal winning outdoor jump by East Germany's Lutz Dombrowski at the 1980 Olympics. (Lewis was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic squad that President Jimmy Carter barred from the Moscow Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)
Then, at the USA/Mobil meet in Indianapolis in June 1983, Lewis won a national title in the 100 meters, surpassed his personal best jump by nearly seven inches and achieved the second-fastest time in history (19.75 seconds) in the 200-meter sprint. "I'm a tick away from the world record for the 100 meters, two ticks in the 200, four inches in the long jump," Lewis said at the time. ". . .I can repeat these performances next week, next month, next year. I'm in my own realm."
In fact, less than two months later, he won gold medals in the 100 and the long jump and anchored a U.S. gold medal win in the 400-meter relay at the World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Finland.
"I'd like to be the best, be the star of everything I do," Lewis says in his warm, easy way. It is more an admission than a boast. "That's not to say I'm the best, but I'm striving for it," he says.
That devotion to excellence has long been a Lewis family trademark. Carl's father, Bill, ran track and starred in football at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There he met Carl's mother, Evelyn, the first member of her family to attend college. Evelyn Lawler Lewis competed for the United States in the 1951 Pan-American Games and finished sixth in the women's hurdles. Today both Lewises teach and coach in the Willingboro school system.
Each of their four children has proved to be an exceptional athlete. Mack, the oldest at 29, was a high-school sprinter and long jumper who set a county record in the 220-yard dash. Cleve, 28, was the first American black ever drafted by a pro soccer team and played two seasons for the Memphis Rogues. Carl's sister Carol, two years his junior, holds the American girl's record in the long jump (21'8") and is currently the top-ranked American woman long jumper with a personal best of 22'10-1/2".
"Our parents let us make our own mistakes," says Carol. "They said, 'If you like a sport, get into it. Just promise us you'll go for the best you can do.'"
Carl and Carol got into the long jump, or at least the long-jump pit, in 1969, when their parents founded the Willingboro Track Club for high-schools girls in the Philadelphia suburb. A year later, boys were included.
While Bill and Evelyn Lewis coached, their two youngest children played in the sand of the long-jump pit.
Later the two siblings set up makeshift hurdles in the family yard. In those early days Carol was almost always the victor.
"He was pretty bad," says 5'11" Carol, an effervescent sort who followed Carl to Houston and remains his close friend. "He was shorter than me. He was a little squat guy. He was a pretty lacking athlete back then."
"I was the ugly duckling of the family, so to say, in athletics," Carl admits. "I was a late developer."
Lewis developed well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Houston, winning recognition as a high-school All-American in the 200 meters and the long jump, in which he set an American junior record.
Tellez believes his early struggles toughened Lewis and made him more receptive to coaching. "It doesn't make any difference if you're born with talent--you have to nurture it," Tellez explains. "At a very young age, Carl was a steady person. He's very coachable. He sees the things you're trying to teach him. He's thinking all the time."
Since 1980 he has employed a personal mamager, Joe Douglas, to oversee his affairs. Under a complicated trust fund formula established by The Athletic Congress, which governs track and field in the United States, Lewis can earn money from endorsements and appearances and can still compete as an amateur. The track star has already done ads for Nike and for Fuji-Xerox in Japan.
His manager, Douglas, expects Lewis to be "one of the most popular athletes in the world" when the Olympics are over. "I don't know what it's going to do," Douglas says regarding his client's commercial potential. "I'd hope he'd be worth as much as [singer] Michael Jackson."
Intimates say celebrity and the prospect of untold riches have had very little effect on Carl Lewis. "He likes to please peple," says Tellez, his coach. "He's a super person. For him to have handled all the attention the way he's handled it, I think it's really unbelievable."
Lewis says he likes the popularity. But his athletic and personal success rests on more solid ground, on personal qualities that will not permit him to be deflected from his quest for Olympic gold and his sport's most remarkable records. "I have expectations for myself and goals for myself," he says. "I don't think the goals people set for me are higher. I'm a perfectionist."
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|Title Annotation:||track athlete Carl Lewis|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||May 1, 1984|
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