King Carl Lewis: Unconquerable and Greatest Olympic Athlete on Earth | Sunday Observer

King Carl Lewis: Unconquerable and Greatest Olympic Athlete on Earth

2 August, 2020
Carl Lewis emulated Jesse Owens’ historical feat of four Olympic Golds-
Carl Lewis emulated Jesse Owens’ historical feat of four Olympic Golds-Four Long Jump Golds in the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics

Crowned Sportsman of the 20th Century by the IOC, World Athlete of the 20th Century by the IAAF and Olympian of the 20th Century:

The track and field genius Carl Lewis who set the track alight was a spectacular runner. He graced athletics with such elegance, style and apparently effortless brilliance for the best part of two decades in the 20th century. He was tall, graceful and glamorous. He was too far ahead of everyone else in the sports arena. He was stylish, intelligent, a good talker -a natural for a pivotal role to promote sports in the world. I have fond memories of meeting the legendary Carl Lewis at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Canada in 2003.

Carl Lewis was inducted into the 2020 Houston Sports Hall of Fame. He was the greatest among all who lived through 1901 to 2000 to be voted “Sportsman of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), elected “World Athlete of the Century” by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), named “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Athlete of the Year” by Track & Field News in 1982,1983 and 1984.

Carl won 10 Olympic medals including nine Golds and 10 World Championships medals, including eight Golds. His career spanned from 1979 to 1996. His 65 consecutive victories in the long jump over a span of 10 years is one of the sport’s longest undefeated streaks. Over the course of his athletics career, he set world records in the 100m, 4x100m and 4x200m relays. He broke 10s for the 100m 15times, 20s for the 200m 10 times and long jumped over 28 feet 71 times.

He became the third Olympian to win the same individual event four times – Long Jump at 23, 27, 31 and 35, joining the Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom and the US discuss thrower Al Oerter and later matched by the US swimmer Michael Phelps. Lewis’s nine Golds also tie him for second on the list of multiple Olympic gold medalists with the Finnish long-distance athlete Paavo Nurmi, the Soviet artistic gymnast Larisa Latynina and the US swimmer Mark Spitz behind Phelps.

Pathway to Moscow 1980 Olympic Games at 19

Fredrick Carlton Lewis was born on July 1, 1961 in Birmingham, Alabama to William and Evelyn Lewis as the third child in a family of three sons and a daughter. His mother was a hurdler. His father was his first coach, in the local athletic club run by his parents provided a crucial influence on him and his sister, Carol who was an elite long jumper. His elder brother Cleveland played professional soccer.

Lewis did his schooling at Willingboro High School, New Jersey and was coached by Andy Dudek and Paul Minore. By the age of 13, he started competing and achieved an all-time high ranking of fourth in the World Junior list of long jumpers. Many tried to take Lewis and he chose to enroll at the University of Houston (UH) where Tom Tellez was coach who remained Lewis’s coach for his entire career.

In 1979, Lewis broke the high school long jump record with a leap of 8.13m. An old knee injury flared up and Lewis worked with Tellez and adapted his technique so that he was able to jump without pain and he went on to win the 1980 National Collegiate Athletic Association title with a jump of 8.35m. Though his focus was on the long jump, he was now starting to emerge as a talent in the sprints.

At 18, Lewis qualified for the 1980 Olympics in the long jump and the 4x100m relay. He was the youngest male in the US contingent. The Olympic boycott precluded Lewis from competing in the Moscow 1980 edition. However, he participated in the Liberty Bell Classic, which was an alternate for boycotting nations. He jumped 7.77m for a bronze and the US 4x100m relay team won gold with a time of 38.61s. He received one of 461 Congressional Gold Medals created especially for the athletes precluded from competing in the 1980 Olympics.

At the start of1981, Lewis’s best legal long jump was his high school record and he was not keen to participate in the high altitude competitions. He became the world’s fastest sprinter, when he won the 100m in 10.00s on May 16, 1981 in Dallas. It was the third fastest time in the world.. On June 20, Lewis improved his personal best by almost half a meter by leaping 8.62m while still a teenager. He won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the US in 1981.

Lewis was determined to set his records at sea level. In response to a question about his skipping a 1982 long jump competition at altitude, he said: “I want the record and I plan to get it, but not at altitude. I don’t want that A (for altitude) after the mark.”

In the early 1980s, all the men’s 100m and 200m and the long jump records had been set at the high altitude of Mexico City.

He won his first national titles in the 100m and long jump to be ranked No.1 in the world in both events. Lewis cleared 8.70m at Indianapolis on July 24, 1982 to become the third all-time longest jumper. When he set his personal best, he had three foul jumps with his toe just over the board considered well over 9.14m. He was ranked number one in long jump and the 100m in 1981.

At the IAAF’s first World Championships in 1983, Lewis won the long jump with a leap of 8.55m and the 100m with relative ease at Helsinki. He won the 200m on June 19 at the TAC/Mobil Championships in 19.75s, the second fastest time in the history. Lewis probably could have broken the world record if he did not ease off in the final meters to raise his arms in celebration. Finally, Lewis ran the anchor in the 4x100m relay,winning in 37.86s, a new world record and the first in Lewis’s career.

He became the first athlete to run sub-10 secs 100m at low-altitude with a 9..97s in Modesto on May 14. His gold at the World Championships and other fast times earned him the number one ranking in the world. At the TAC Championships on June 19, he set a new low-altitude record in the long jump, 8.79m and earned the world number one ranking.

Four Golds in 1984 Olympics to Emulate Jesse Owens

At 23, Carl Lewis had the chance to make history on home soil, during the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984. Four years before, the kid from Pennsylvania had qualified for Moscow 1980 but a US led boycott saw him stay home. A year later in Los Angeles, Lewis was hailed to succeed Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Lewis himself was not ignoring those expectations. In fact his goal was to emulate Owens.

On August 4, 1984 Lewis ran into the history books. Out of the blocks, Lewis did not take the best does not matter. He was best known for keeping his pace when he reaches top speed and as the best finisher of the sprint. Around the mid-race point, he found an extra gear and finally took the lead to finish ahead of everyone. His time was 9.99s. “I got to about the 60m mark and I was drawing very close,” Lewis recalled after the race. “So right when I drew even at about 75m, a great big relief of joy just came over me. The only thing left was just to finish the race, so that smile and that relief just broke open and that was my celebration early.” That was his first Olympics gold medal.

He knew that his first jump at 8.54m was sufficient to win. He fouled on his next and then passed his remaining four and won the gold. His third gold came in the 200m, where he won with a time of 19.80s, a new Olympic record and the third fastest time in history. Finally, he won his fourth in the 4x100m relay when he anchored with a time of 37.83s, setting a new world record. Lewis won four Golds and emulated his childhood idol Owens, who had done the same 48years before him. He was ranked No. 1 in all three events, 100m, 200m and long jump in 1984.

Lewis continued to dominate especially in the long jump, in which he would remain undefeated for the next seven years, but others challenged his dominance in the 100m. In 1986, Ben Johnson defeated Lewis at the Goodwill Games in Moscow. At the 1987 World Championships in Rome, Lewis focused on the long jump. History’s second 29ft. long-jumper Robert Emmiyan was competing with him. Nevertheless, with a leap of8.67m Lewis won the gold. In the 4x100m relay, Lewis anchored the US to win the gold at 37.90s, the third fastest of all time.

In 1987, Carl Lewis lost his precious father, William McKinley Lewis Jr., who was his great motivator. When he died at 60, Lewis placed the gold medal he won for the 100m in 1984 in his hand to be buried with him. “Don’t worry,” he told his mother. “I’ll get another one.” Lewis repeatedly referred to his father as an inspiring factor for the 1988 season. “A lot happened to me last year, especially the death of my father. That caused me to re-educate myself to being the very best I possibly can be this season,” he said after defeating Ben Johnson in Zurich on August 17.

Carl Crowned at Olympic Games Seoul 1988

The 100m final at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul was one of the most sensational sports stories of the year and its unexpected outcome would rank as one of the most infamous sports stories of the century. Johnson won in 9.79s, a new world record while Lewis set a new US record with 9.92s. Three days later, Johnson tested positive for steroids, his medal was taken away and Lewis was awarded the gold and credited with a new Olympic record.

In the long jump, Lewis leaped 8.72m, a low-altitude Olympic best and none of his competitors could match it. The Americans swept the medals in the event for the first time in 84 years. In the 200m, Lewis dipped under his Olympic record from1984, running 19.79s and settled for a Silver medal. In the final event, the 4x100m relay, Lewis never made it to the track as the US fumbled an exchange and were disqualified.

Lewis eventually was credited with the 100m world record for the 9.92s he ran in Seoul. Lewis was deemed the world record holder for his 1988 Olympic performance and declared the 1987 100m World Champion. The IAAF also declared that Lewis had also, therefore, twice tied the “true” world record (9.93s) for his 1987 World Championship and the 1988 Zurich meet performances. From January 1, 1990, Lewis was the world record holder in the 100m.

The 1991 World Championships in Tokyo is best remembered for the long jump final, considered to have been one of greatest in any sports competition. Lewis was up against his main rival and 28 months younger, Mike Powell. Lewis had at that point not lost a long jump competition in a decade, winning the 65 consecutive meets. Powell had been unable to defeat Lewis, despite sometimes with jumps near world-record territory, only to see them ruled fouls or, as with other competitors, putting in leaps that Lewis himself had only rarely surpassed, only to see Lewis surpass them on his subsequent jumps.

Lewis’ first jump was 8.68m, a World Championship record and a mark recorded best by only three others. Powell, jumping first, had faltered in the first round, but jumped 8.54m to claim second place in the second round. Lewis jumped 8.83m, a wind-aided leap, in the third round, a mark that would have won all but two long jump competitions in history. Powell responded with a long foul, estimated to be around 8.80m. Lewis’s next jump made history: the first leap ever beyond Bob Beamon’s record. The wind gauge indicated the jump was wind-aided, so it could not be considered a record, but it would still count in the competition.

In the next round, Powell responded. His jump was measured as 8.95m; this time, his jump was not a foul, and with a wind gauge measurement of 0.3m/s, well within the legal allowable for a record. Powell had not only jumped 4cm further than Lewis, he had eclipsed the mark set by Bob Beamon and done so at low altitude. Lewis still had two jumps left. He leaped 8.87m, which was a new personal best under legal wind conditions and then a final jump of 8.84m.. Lewis thus lost his first long jump competition in a decade. Powell’s 8.95m and Lewis’s final two jumps still stand as the top three low altitude jumps ever. Lewis’s reaction to the greatest competitions ever in the sport was to offer acknowledgment of the achievement. “He just did it.”

In what would be the deepest 100m race ever, with six men finishing in under 10 secs, Lewis not only defeated his opponents, but also reclaimed the world record with a clocking of 9.86s. Though previously a world-record holder in this event, this was the first time he had crossed the line with WR (World Record) beside his name on the giant television screens and the first time he could savor his achievement as it occurred. He could be seen with tears in his eyes afterwards. “The best race of my life,” Lewis said. “The best technique, the fastest. And Idid it at 30.” Lewis’s world record would stand for nearly three years. Lewis also anchored the 4x100m relay team to another world record, 37.50s, the third time that year he had anchored a 4x100m squad to a world record.

Golds at Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996

At 31, Lewis qualified for the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. He competed in the long jump and 4x100m relay to claim gold medals. At the Games, Lewis jumped 8.67m in the first round of the long jump. In the 4x100m relay, Lewis anchored another world record, in 37.40s, a time, which stood for 16 years. He covered the final leg in 8.85secs, the fastest officially recorded anchor leg. Lewis competed at the 4th World Championships in Stuttgart in 1993, earned his first World Championship medal in the 200m, a bronze with his 19.99s performance. That medal would prove to be his final Olympic or World Championship medal in a running event.

Injuries kept Lewis largely sidelined for the next few years. At 35, he made a comeback and qualified for the Atlanta 1996 edition of Olympics in the long jump for the fifth time, the first US athlete to do so. At the 1996 Olympics, Lewis, was in good form, though he did not match his past performances and his third-round leap of 8.50m won the gold. It was officially declared tied with Larry Myricks for the masters’ record for the 35-39 age group.

Lewis retired from the track in 1997and lives in Houston. He founded the Carl Lewis Foundation to contribute towards growth of youth in athletics and sports. In 2000 his alma mater, the UH, named the Carl Lewis International Complex after him. Lewis was inducted into the 2010 New Jersey Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the 2016 Texas Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In his retirement from the track, he launched a singing career, appeared in a TV series and six movies, attempted to enter politics and finally settled to coach at the UH.

(The author possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc; his research interests encompasses Olympic Education, IOC and Sports; recipient of National and Presidential Accolades for Academic and Sports pursuits; his byline appears regularly since 1988)