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Lewis, Carl 1961–

Carl Lewis 1961

Track and field athlete

At a Glance

A Lifetime of Dedication

King Carl

Vindicated in 1992

Selected writings

Sources

Qualifying for the United States Olympic team every four years since 1980, athlete Carl Lewis has won eight Olympic gold medals in four different events and held world records in the 100-meter dash and the long jump. Lewiss long domination at the Olympics and other international events is particularly remarkable in light of his sport of choice track and field. The grueling demands of sprinting, long jumping, and relays demand youth and vigor. Lewis has defied not only the stopwatch but the march of time and has become, in the words of fellow athlete Mike Powell in Sports Illustrated, the best track and field athlete ever.

Lewis is the first athlete since Jesse Owens to win four gold medals in track during the same Olympic Games. The circumstances surrounding those victories were very different, however. Owens returned to the United States in 1936 a national hero and retired from competition. Lewis, on the other hand, received boos from the crowd at the 1984 Olympics and earned a cold shoulder from big business and fans alike. The rough treatment he receivedstemming, he has claimed, from unfair press coverageonly sharpened his resolve to continue competing. From 1984 through 1992 he sprinted and jumped on a world-class level, as ever-younger opponents gnawed at his heels.

New York Times Magazine correspondent Trip Gabriel observed that Carl Lewis has embodied the heartbreak of fulfilled promise. He was, by any measurement, the greatest track-and-field athlete of all time, yet Americans refused to warm to him. He won four gold medals at Los Angeles, yet he emerged from the [1984] Games less popular than he was before they began. The public found him arrogant and overly calculating in his attempts to cash in on his victories in a supposedly amateur sport. Since then, according to Gabriel, both Lewis and his fans have matured. The athlete has become revered, as much for his longevity as for anything else. Public reverence for the athlete translated to hearty cheers in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992 as Lewisat the age of 31won Olympic gold in the long jump and the 400-meter relay.

I always had the feeling that I was born to do something. Im convinced that God has given me the talent, Lewis asserted in the Philadelphia Daily News. Born on July 1, 1961, in Birmingham, Alabama, Frederick Carlton Lewis is the son of two star athletes who attended Tuskegee

At a Glance

Born Frederick Carlton Lewis, July 1, 1961, in Birmingham, AL; son of Bill (a teacher and track coach) and Evelyn (a teacher and track coach; maiden name, Lawler) Lewis. Education: Attended University of Houston, 1979-82; studied acting at Warren Robertson Theater Workshop, New York, NY.

Track and field athlete, 1978. Has competed in world-class track events in the United States and abroad since 1980, including annual world championships and Summer Olympic Games, 1984, 1988, and 1992. Owner and fashion designer, Sports Style; recorded single Break It Up.

Member: Santa Monica Track Club (founding member).

Selected awards: Sullivan Award, 1981; gold medals in 100-meter run, 200-meter run, 400-meter relay, and long jump, 1984 Olympics; Jesse Owens Award, 1985; gold medals in 100-meter run and long jump and silver medal in 200-meter run, 1988 Olympics; gold medals in 400-meter relay and long jump, 1992 Olympics; numerous gold medals in world championships; set world records in 100-meter run, 400-meter relay, and indoor long jump.

Addresses: c/o United States Olympic Committee, One Olympic Place, Colorado Springs, CO 80909.

Institute. His father, Bill, ran track and played football; his mother, Evelyn, was a world-class hurdler who represented the United States at the 1951 Pan-American Games. By the time Carl was born, the third of four children, the elder Lewises were coaching young athletes in track and field events.

When Carl was still a youngster, his family moved to Willingboro, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia. There his parents worked as high school teachers and founded the Willingboro Track Club. Ray Didinger noted in a Philadelphia Daily News profile that Lewiss parents considered their youngest son the third-best athlete in a family of four and encouraged him to pursue music lessons instead. Carl had other ideas. He went out into his back yard, measured off twenty-nine feet, two-and-a-half inches, and stuck a strip of tape on the ground. The distance was one that even the worlds best athletes could not meet, but young Carl Lewis began jumping toward it with singular determination.

A Lifetime of Dedication

Carl didnt just go after his goals, he stalked them, Bill Lewis commented in the Philadelphia Daily News. He was a serious kid. There was nothing flighty about him. Some kids want to be a fireman one day, a movie star the next. Carl set his mind on track and that was it. He said he wanted to be the best, period.

Striving to pass his older brothers Mack and Cleveand even his younger sister CarolLewis began high school predicting that he would achieve a distance of 25 feet in the long jump. Skinny and small, he lost far more meets than he won. I believed setting goals was the only way I could get where I wanted to go, Lewis explained in the Philadelphia Daily News. I studied track. Being around my parents and the club helped a lot. But I knew, in the final analysis, it was up to me. I never lacked for confidence. Even when I was younger, when I was losing a lot, I felt it was only a matter of time before I was the best. Indeed, Lewis was once singled out at a Philadelphia track meet for youngsters by Jesse Owens himself, who urged the other children to follow the example of this spunky little guy.

A late bloomer, Lewis finally reached his goal of a 25-foot jump during his junior year at Willingboro High School. In 1978 he won at the national junior championships with a 9.3-second time in the 100-meter run and a 25-foot 9-inch long jump. He also received an All-American ranking in the 200-meter sprint. When he graduated from Willingboro in 1979, Lewis was the top-ranked high school track athlete in the country. The years of dedicated practice, the quiet self-confidence, and the sense of destiny had set the stage for a phenomenal track and field career.

King Carl

In the autumn of 1979 Lewis entered the University of Houston on an athletic scholarship. There he worked with coach Tom Tellez, an expert on body mechanics who suggested improvements in Lewiss style of jumping. Lewis was perceived as a natural talent who could also implement new strategies without suffering setbacks. After just one year of college he qualified for the 1980 Olympic team and was one of the many athletes who saw opportunity pass them by when former President Jimmy Carter cancelled the United States participation in the Games.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Lewis solidified his top national ranking in the long jump and the 100-meter dash at the 1981 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) indoor championships. He was the first athlete to win two events at an NCAA championship and was awarded the Amateur Athletic Unions Sullivan Award.

In 1982 Lewis left the University of Houston to compete under the auspices of the Santa Monica Track Club in California. Coach Tellez followed him west and continued to work closely with him. By 1983 Lewis had become a winner in four categories: long jump, 100-meter run, 200-meter run, and 400-meter relay. He notified the world that he was ready for the 1984 Olympics by winning three gold medals at the track and field world championships in Helsinki, Finland, in 1983. During the early months of 1984 he set an indoor world record by long jumping twenty-eight feet, ten-and-a-half inches. With speed, consistency, and desire, Lewis looked like a conquering hero who would return from the 23rd Olympics covered with gold medals.

America loves its heroes, and the press was quick to descend upon the young track star who predicted with all confidence that he would win four events in Los Angeles in the summer of 1984. Unfortunately for Lewis, his confidence was perceived in some quarters as arrogancehe showed up late for press conferences, made candid remarks about how much money he hoped to earn, and questioned the whole business of amateur athletics. Brad Hunt, a sports agent, told the New York Times Magazine that Lewis became so big and so hyped that the bandwagon became unappealing before people even started jumping on it. Hunt noted that a member of Lewiss entourage had hinted that the athlete might someday earn as much as singer Michael Jackson. I dont think the sporting press, and thats where your image starts, wanted the Olympic hero to be Michael Jackson, Hunt said. They wanted the Olympic hero to be Jesse Owens, who up until that time was the symbol of Olympia, the man who did it for the glory of the country and the thrill of participation.

Lewis went to the 1984 Olympics under intense media scrutiny, and he fulfilled his astounding predictions. He won a gold medal in the 100-meter sprint with a time of 9.99 seconds. His performance in the second event, the long jump, drew jeers from the crowd when he decided to let his first leap of twenty-eight feet, one quarter inch stand and pass on the last four tries to avoid the risk of injury. No one beat him at that distance, and he took a second gold medal. For his third, Lewis set an Olympic record with a 19.8-second run in the 200-meter race. Last but not least, the athlete anchored the 400-meter relay team to an Olympic record victory at 37.83 seconds.

One might expect fame and fortune to follow such exploits, but Lewis found himself nicknamed King Carl in the press. A lucrative product endorsement contract with Nike was cancelled, and no others followed in the United States. Track is a worldwide sport, however, and Lewis fared far better in Europe and Japan, where he became a hero. He continued to participate in important indoor and outdoor track meets, consistently winning the 100-meter dash and the long jump. Stung by negative press coverage, which he asserted was often twisted and biased, he refused to conform to others expectations. I was supposed to be humble and nice and say, Thank you for coming out, and be totally accessible, the athlete was quoted as saying in the New York Times Magazine. Im not supposed to be able to speak clearly, and decipher whats going on in the media. Im supposed to be the typical amateur whos 22 and scared to death and cant believe he won the Olympics.

A new cloud appeared on Lewiss horizon in 1985: Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who began to beat Lewis steadily in the 100-meter sprint. Lewis came to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, as the underdog in the 100-meter event, a position that helped his media image immensely. Initially he ran second in Seoul to Johnson, who finished the 100-meter in record time. Lewis was given the gold medal by default soon afterward, when it was revealed that Johnson had used anabolic steroids. Lewis earned a second gold in Seoul for his signature event, the long jump.

Six gold medals in two successive Olympic games did little to improve King Carls status with the media. As Gabriel put it, after the Johnson scandal at the 1988 Olympics, Lewis... was not embraced as a conquering hero. To a large extent, his own victory was seen as tarnished, and he became swept up in the apparent blanket condemnation of the sport. Worse, Lewis himself was charged with steroid use by a former opponent, whose accusations were printed in the prestigious German periodical Stern. Lewis vehemently denied the chargesand sued the magazine while willingly submitting to drug tests after numerous races. A staunch opponent of steroid use, Lewis has never been linked to drug use by anything but unsubstantiated rumor.

Vindicated in 1992

By 1992 Lewis had won eight world championship gold medals and had dominated the long jump for ten years. Age began to take a toll on the athlete, however. For a decade he had chased the outdoor long jump world record of Bob Beamon, only to watch Mike Powell reach that pinnacle at the 1991 world track and field championships in Tokyo, Japan. Lewis made four personal best jumps at the same meet but still could not beat Powell. The low point for Lewis came at the 1992 Olympic trials, where he failed to make the cut for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. He did qualify for the long jump and the 400-meter relay, and a week later he discovered that he had been suffering from a low-grade sinus infection.

Lewis experienced something at the 1992 Olympic trials that had long eluded himtotal acceptance from an American crowd. He was given a standing ovation in New Orleans as his second-place finish in the long jump qualified him for an Olympic berth. Going into the Olympics as an underdog in his favorite event, Lewis remained true to form, predicting victory and more: appreciation, finally, for his decade of accomplishments. Im only 30 years old and Ive had to deal with more than most people in an entire lifetime, he told the New York Times Magazine. I went through the Olympics and people tried to put me down and tear me down and force me to retire. And for some silly reason I kept on running and ignored them, and now Ive made it and Im reaping the benefits of that perseverance. Im publicly bigger than Ive ever been, and its a great thing to go through a career and be at this stage and everybody loves you the most.

The admiration of fans came showering down in Barcelona in 1992, when Lewis beat Powell in the long jump to earn his seventh gold medal, and then anchored the 400-meter relay for an eighth. Sports Illustrated contributor Gary Smith wrote, In [Lewiss] early years as a world-class athlete, there was sometimes almost a desperation in the way he made sure you knew this about him: He was not just a trackman. He was limitless. But in the end there was one thing he couldnt escape: his own talent. One by one, all the trappings that were supposed to make him unique fell away like leaves, leaving only this rare, bare-trunk truth: Excelling at the simplest thingsrunning and jumpingfor the longest time is what has made Carl Lewis unlike any athlete who ever lived.

Lewis plans to keep competing in track and field events as long as he can continue to win. He has no intention of hanging onto the sport until much youngerand less talentedrunners pass him by. With endorsement contracts from Panasonic, among others, and hefty appearance fees, he is a wealthy man who plans to retire and perhaps run for political office in Houston. His experiences as world and Olympic champion along with his Christian faith have helped Lewis develop a philosophy about his singular career. Everybody has difficult times, he remarked in the Philadelphia Daily News. If you expect life to be wonderful and everybody to love you and everything special to happen to you all the time, then youre not really dealing with the real world.

Seven of Lewiss Olympic gold medals are still in his possession. The eighthhis first, for the 100-meter sprint, was buried with his father Bill in May of 1988. My father was most proud of the 100, Lewis revealed in the Philadelphia Daily News. More than anything, he wanted me to win that medal.... Now he has it and hell always have it.

Selected writings

(With Jeffrey Marx) Inside Track: My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field (autobiography), S&S Trade, 1990.

Sources

Books

Lewis, Carl, and Jeffrey Marx, Inside Track: My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field, S&S Trade, 1990.

The Olympics Factbook: A Spectators Guide to the Winter and Summer Games, Visible Ink Press, 1992.

Periodicals

Esquire, April 1983.

Inside Sports, August 1984.

Newsweek, August 20, 1984; July 27, 1992.

New York Times Magazine, June 17, 1984; July 19, 1992.

Philadelphia Daily News, July 26, 1984; August 2, 1984; January 25, 1985; July 23, 1985; June 3, 1988; June 25, 1992; August 17, 1992.

Sports Illustrated, August 17, 1992.

Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 1984.

Mark Kram

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Lewis, Carl

Carl Lewis

1961-

American track and field athlete

Carl Lewis, the greatest track and field star of the 20th century, attracted intense attention to his sport in the United States in the 1980s. His early successes as a sprinter and long-jumper inspired writers to compare him to Jesse Owens , even before he equaled Owens' feat of winning four gold medals in a single Olympics. Negative publicity about his flashy style, his financial ambitions, and what many considered his arrogance made him a controversial figure. But he went on to surpass even Owens' feats by winning gold medals in three more Olympics, and questions about his personality have given way to respect for his unequaled accomplishments.

Growing up

Lewis was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1961 to Bill and Evelyn Lewis, both teachers and gifted athletes. Evelyn was herself an accomplished track and field athlete who competed in the 80-meter hurdles at the Pan American Games while in college. Bill played football at the Tuskegee Institute, where the couple met. They worked as teachers and marched in civil-rights protests, and Martin Luther King, Jr. baptized Carl's brothers.

The Lewis family moved to New Jersey in 1963. There, Carl and his younger sister Carol picked up their parents' passion for sports. They built a homemade long-jump pit in their back yard and invited friends over for neighborhood track meets. At first, Carl didn't show much athletic talent. "I was small for my age, the runt of the family, the nonathlete," he wrote in his autobiography, Inside Track. But when he heard about Bob Beamon's world record long jump of 29 feet 21/2 inches at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968, Lewis marked off the distance in his front yard.

As a kid, Lewis participated in track meets named for Jesse Owens, and he met Owens at two of the meets. He had a growth spurt while a sophomore in high school, and

soon became a track and field standout. He put the number 25 on his jacket to show he wanted to jump 25 feet before he graduated. By his senior year, he was meeting his goal regularly. The day of his senior prom, he beat his aging sprinting idol, Steve Williams, in a race.

Several colleges tried to recruit him. In his autobiography, Lewis named the coaches and shoe companies who offered him money and gifts in violation of NCAA rules. He accepted shoes and equipment from Puma and Adidas while still in high school, and signed a six-figure contract with Nike while in college. He chose to go to college at the University of Houston in 1979, though no one there offered him money or a shoe deal, he wrote, so he could compete under well-regarded coach Tom Tellezwho became his personal coach after graduation.

The "next Jesse Owens"

Since long-jumping was causing soreness in Lewis's knees, Tellez convinced him to change his long-jump style from a "hang" jump to a "double-hitch kick," in which the jumper pumps his arms and legs, as if running through the air. Soon he was jumping 27 feet with the double-hitch kick. In 1980, Lewis beat the world's toprated sprinter in a 100-meter race. Writers began comparing him to Jesse Owens because he was so good at both the long jump and sprinting. He and his sister Carol both qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, although the U.S. boycotted the Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

In summer 1980, Lewis competed on the European track circuit for the first time. He was one of several college athletes who were paid money for running abroad, in violation of NCAA rules. "Any college athlete who had been to Europe and been exposed to the opportunities for track athletes would be crazy not to think about the money," he wrote in his autobiographywhose subtitle, "My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field," was meant to show that the "amateur" status of his sport had become a facade.

In 1981, Lewis set a world record for an indoor long jump: 27 feet, 101/4 inches, beating a previous record set by Larry Myricks, who had been favored to win the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. The two developed a bitter rivalry. At the U.S. national championships in 1981, Lewis beat Myricks by making the second-longest jump unaided by wind of all time: 28 feet, 31/2 inches. He also won the 100-meter run. In 1982, at a meet in Indianapolis, he made a jump that some say spanned 30 feet. But in a much-disputed ruling, an official nullified the jump, claiming Lewis had stepped past the board at the end of the runway, so the jump was never measured.

That same year, Lewis joined the Lay Witnesses for Christ, a group of Christian athletes, after meeting some of its members at a meet. In 1983, a musician friend introduced Lewis to Sri Chinmoy, an Indian guru who assured Lewis that his teachings about inner peace and meditation didn't conflict with the teachings of Jesus. Lewis came to regard both Chinmoy and the Lay Witnesses as spiritual advisers.

By 1983, Lewis was the most famous athlete in track and field. At the national championships in Indianapolis, he became the first person in decades to win the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the long jump the same year. At the World Track Championships in Helsinki, he led an American sweep of the 100-meter dash, won the long jump, and led the U.S. relay team to a world-record victory.

But as the 1984 Olympics approached, Lewis was developing a reputation for arrogance. A profile in Sports Illustrated painted him as self-absorbed. Competitors thought his habit of raising his arms in victory as he reached the finish line was disrespectful to them. Some of them also resented the isolating limos and hotel suites meet promoters gave him.

The 1984 Olympics

Lewis won four gold medals in the Olympics in Los Angeles, matching Owens' performance in Berlin in 1936. He won the 100-meter race in 9.99 seconds, jumped 28 feet1/4 inch to win the long jump, led a U.S. sweep of the 200-meter, and anchored the U.S. team that set a new world record with its win in the 4 × 100 relay.

But a backlash against Lewis's personality detracted from his feats. He was attacked as greedy when his personal manager declared that he wanted Lewis to make as much money as singer Michael Jackson. Lewis decided to stay at a friend's house, not the Olympic village, during the games, leading some to call him a prima donna. He ran his victory lap after the 100-meter race with a large U.S. flag a fan handed him. Some news reports claimed Lewis had planted the fan there to give him the flagthough he hadn't. When Lewis chose not to take all his jumps in the long-jump competition, spectators who hoped to see him break the world record booedeven though he was following good track-meet strategy, saving his strength for his other events. After the controversies, product-endorsement deals Lewis expected didn't come through, and he became bitter toward the press for a while.

Chronology

1961 Born July 1 in Birmingham, Alabama
1980 Wins NCAA long-jump titles
1980 Named to U.S. Olympic team (but U.S. boycotts Olympics)
1981 Breaks indoor long-jump world record
1984 Wins four gold medals at Olympics in Los Angeles
1985 Releases album, The Feeling That I Feel
1987 Declares that several top athletes are using steroids
1988 Wins two gold medals and one silver at Olympics in Seoul, including gold in 100-meter dash after Ben Johnson tests positive for steroids
1989 Testifies about steroids in sports before Congress
1990 Publishes autobiography, Inside Track
1991 Breaks 100-meter world record, but loses long jump when Mike Powell sets new world record at Tokyo World Track Championships
1992 Wins third long-jump gold medal at Olympics in Barcelona
1996 Wins fourth long-jump gold medal at Olympics in Atlanta
1997 Retires

Awards and Accomplishments

1979 New Jersey long jumper of the year
1980 Indoor and outdoor NCAA long-jump titles
1981 Sullivan Award for nation's top amateur athlete
1983 Won three events at national track championships
1983 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
1984 Four gold medals at Olympics
1984 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
1985 Jesse Owens Award
1988 Two gold medals and one silver medal at Olympics
1991 World record of 9.86 seconds in 100-meter dash
1992 Two gold medals at Olympics
1996 Fourth Olympic long-jump gold medal
1999 Named greatest U.S. Olympian of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated
2001 Inducted into National Track and Field Hall of Fame

After the games, Lewis took acting lessons, played a bit part in a movie, and recorded an album, The Feeling That I Feel, and some singles. The album "wasn't bad. It just wasn't good," Lewis later admitted. Still, his single "Break It Up" went gold in Sweden. He recorded with Quincy Jones and sang the national anthem at a few meets.

In 1987, Lewis's father died. He left his coveted 100-meter gold medal in his father's coffin and pledged to win another one.

Lewis and Ben Johnson

As the 1988 Olympics approached, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson emerged as Lewis's top sprinting rival. At the 1987 World Track Championships in Rome, Johnson beat Lewis and set a new world record of 9.83 seconds in the 100-meter, while Lewis ran a 9.93. While in Rome, Johnson's coach was overheard making a comment that implied Johnson was taking steroids to enhance his performance. Word got back to Lewis. "A lot of people have come from nowhere and are running unbelievably," Lewis told a reporter. "There are gold medalists at this meet already that are on drugs," he added, but didn't reveal any names. In 1988, Lewis beat Johnson at a meet in Zurich, where he heard another allegation that Johnson was using performance-enhancing drugs.

At the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, just before Lewis and Johnson raced in the 100-meter dash, the two shook hands. "As I looked at him," Lewis recalled in Inside Track, "I noticed that his eyes were very yellow. A sign of steroid use." Johnson took first in the race with a record-breaking 9.79 seconds, while Lewis took second with 9.92. Lewis thought he'd failed in his goal to win another gold medal in the 100-meter for his father. But before the games were over, Johnson tested positive for steroid use and was stripped of the record and the medal. Lewis was awarded the gold instead. He also won the gold for the long jump with a jump of 28 feet, 71/2 inches, and won a silver medal in the 200-meter (his friend Joe DeLoach took the gold).

Lewis continued to speak out against steroid use. He testified before a U.S. congressional committee on the subject, and he called for an independent drug-testing agency to monitor each sport. Once, speaking to a group of college students, he implied that he thought fellow U.S. Olympic athlete Florence Griffith-Joyner used steroidsbut the charges were never proved, and Lewis backed down from his statement.

The 1992 and 1996 Olympics

As Lewis turned 30, other athletes challenged his dominance of track and field. Leroy Burrell, Lewis's teammate in the Santa Monica Track Club, edged him out in the 100-meter dash at the 1990 Goodwill Games and the 1991 national championships. At the World Track Championships in Tokyo in 1991, Lewis set a new world record in the 100-meter, 9.86 seconds, beating Burrell by.02 seconds. But at the same meet, long jump rival Mike Powell broke Lewis's ten-year undefeated long jump streak. Lewis surpassed 29 feet three times, including a personal best of 29 feet, 111/2 inchesbut Powell broke the world record with a jump of 29 feet, 41/2 inches.

The next year, Lewis had a sinus infection during the Olympic trials, and he only qualified for the long-jump team and as a relay team alternate. But at the Olympics in Barcelona, Lewis beat Powell with a jump of 28 feet 51/2 inches to win his third long-jump gold. He led the relay team to a new world record, just as he had in Los Angeles. "This was my best Olympics," he saidtwo gold medals, no controversy.

Ever since 1979, when a young Lewis beat his aging idol Williams, he vowed to stop running once he was past his prime. By 1996, it looked like the time might have come for him to take his own advice. That March, he finished last in a 60-meter semi-final heat at one meet. But he was determined to make the Olympic team once more. In the Olympic trials, he almost failed to qualify as a long-jumper, but pulled it out with a 27-foot, 21/2-inch jump. At the Olympics in Atlanta, at age thirty-five, with gray peppering his hair, he stunned the crowd and himself with a 27-foot, 103/4-inch jump, winning his fourth long-jump gold medal. It was "better than all the others," he told a People reporter. "All the others, I was expected to win. This time I was a competitor. Before I was an icon."

The Best Ever

Being the world's fastest human and longest jumper wasn't enough for Carl Lewis. But in the end there was one thing he couldn't escape: hisown talent. One by one, all the trappings that were supposed to make him unique fell away like leaves, leaving only this rare, bare-trunk truth: Excelling at the simplest things running and jumping for the longest time is what has made Carl Lewis unlike any athlete who ever lived.

Source: Smith, Gary. Sports Illustrated (August 17, 1992): 40.

Related Biography: Track and Field Athlete Carol Lewis

Carol Lewis, Olympic track and field athlete, bobsledder, television sports commentator, and younger sister of track legend Carl Lewis, was born in 1963. As a child, Carol and Carl built a long-jump pit in their back yard and raced against each other. At thirteen, she competed in her first pentathlon, and broke the national record for 13-year-old girls. At fourteen, she came in first in the long jump at the junior nationals in Indianapolis.

In 1980, she earned a place on the U.S. women's Olympic long jump team, which boycotted the Olympics in Moscow. In college, she competed for the University of Houston track and field team, and was an NCAA long-jump champion twice. In 1983, she won both the indoor and outdoor titles. She competed in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, finishing ninth in the long jump in 1984.

Lewis is also a member of the U.S. bobsled team and a track and field commentator for NBC sports.

Lewis retired from track and field in 1997 at a ceremony during halftime of a football game at his old alma mater, the University of Houston. His nine Olympic gold medals leave him tied with 1920s Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi for the most ever. In 1999, Sports Illustrated named him the best American Olympic athlete of the 20th century.

Today, Carl Lewis lives in Los Angeles. Since retiring from sports, he has been co-owner of a Houston restaurant and created his own line of sportswear, named SMTC after his old Santa Monica Track Club. In 1999, Texas Monthly reported that he was still running twice a week, as well as lifting weights and cycling.

Lewis is pursuing an acting career. He played a security guard in the 2002 made-for-TV movie Atomic Twister, and he will appear in the science-fiction movie Alien Hunter, scheduled for release in 2003.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: CLEG, Inc., 3350 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 675, Los Angeles, CA 90010.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY LEWIS:

(With Jeffrey Marx) Inside Track: My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field, Simon & Schuster, 1990.

(With Jeffrey Marx) One More Victory Lap: My Personal Diary of an Olympic Year, Aum Publications, 1996.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Klots, Steve. Carl Lewis. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.

Lewis, Carl, with Jeffrey Marx. Inside Track: My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Periodicals

"Ali, Jordan, Lewis and Brown named among century's greatest athletes." Jet (December 20, 1999): 51.

"Between halves of a football game, Carl Lewis's storied career comes to a close." Sports Illustrated (September 22, 1997): 26.

"Hall of Honor add six former Cougars." Daily Cougar (University of Houston student newspaper) (April 23, 2002).

Hollandsworth, Skip. "Athlete of the Century: Carl Lewis." Texas Monthly (December 1999): 146.

"Just like gold times." People (August 12, 1996): 92.

Layden, Tim. "A fleeting glimpse of the past." Sports Illustrated (April 15, 1996): 84.

"Olympians inducted into National Track and Field Hall of Fame." Capper's (December 11, 2001): 12.

Reilly, Rick. "Leap to glory." Sports Illustrated (August 5, 1996): 54.

Other

Carl Lewis Web Site. http://www.carllewis.com

Sketch by Erick Trickey

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Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis

In the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Carl Lewis (born 1961) became the first athlete, since Jesse Owens in 1936, to win four gold medals in Olympic competition. In 1996 he competed in the long jump event at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, winning his fourth gold medal in that event.

Qualifying for the United States Olympic team every four years since 1980, athlete Carl Lewis has won nine Olympic gold medals in four different events and held world records in the 100-meter dash and the long jump. Lewis's long domination at the Olympics and other international events is particularly remarkable in light of his sport of choice—track and field. The grueling demands of sprinting, long jumping, and relays demand youth and vigor. Lewis has defied not only the stopwatch but the march of time and has become, in the words of fellow athlete Mike Powell in Sports Illustrated, "the best track and field athlete ever."

Lewis is the first athlete since Jesse Owens to win four gold medals in track during the same Olympic Games. The circumstances surrounding those victories were very different, however. Owens returned to the United States in 1936 a national hero and retired from competition. Lewis, on the other hand, received boos from the crowd at the 1984 Olympics and earned a cold shoulder from big business and fans alike. The rough treatment he received—stemming, he has claimed, from unfair press coverage—only sharpened his resolve to continue competing. From 1984 through 1996 he sprinted and jumped on a world-class level, as ever-younger opponents gnawed at his heels.

New York Times Magazine correspondent Trip Gabriel observed that Carl Lewis "has embodied the heartbreak of fulfilled promise. He was, by any measurement, the greatest track-and-field athlete of all time, yet Americans refused to warm to him. He won four gold medals at Los Angeles, yet he emerged from the [1984] Games less popular than he was before they began. The public found him arrogant and overly calculating in his attempts to cash in on his victories in a supposedly amateur sport." Since then, according to Gabriel, both Lewis and his fans have matured. The athlete "has become revered, as much for his longevity as for anything else." Public reverence for the athlete translated to hearty cheers in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992 as Lewis—at the age of 31—won Olympic gold in the long jump and the 400-meter relay.

A Lifetime of Dedication

"I always had the feeling that I was born to do something. I'm convinced that God has given me the talent," Lewis asserted in the Philadelphia Daily News. Born on July 1, 1961, in Birmingham, Alabama, Frederick Carlton Lewis is the son of two star athletes who attended Tuskegee Institute. His father, Bill, ran track and played football; his mother, Evelyn, was a world-class hurdler who represented the United States at the 1951 Pan-American Games. By the time Carl was born, the third of four children, the elder Lewises were coaching young athletes in track and field events.

When Carl was still a youngster, his family moved to Willingboro, New Jersey. There his parents worked as high school teachers and founded the Willingboro Track Club. Ray Didinger noted in a Philadelphia Daily News profile that Lewis's parents considered their youngest son "the third-best athlete in a family of four" and encouraged him to pursue music lessons instead. Carl had other ideas. He went out into his back yard, measured off twenty-nine feet, two-and-a-half inches, and stuck a strip of tape on the ground. The distance was one that even the world's best athletes could not meet, but young Carl Lewis began jumping toward it with singular determination.

"Carl didn't just go after his goals, he stalked them," Bill Lewis commented in the Philadelphia Daily News. "He was a serious kid. There was nothing flighty about him. Some kids want to be a fireman one day, a movie star the next. Carl set his mind on track and that was it. He said he wanted to be the best, period."

Striving to pass his older brothers Mack and Cleve—and even his younger sister Carol—Lewis began high school predicting that he would achieve a distance of 25 feet in the long jump. Skinny and small, he lost far more meets than he won. "I believed setting goals was the only way I could get where I wanted to go," Lewis explained in the Philadelphia Daily News. "I studied track. Being around my parents and the club helped a lot. But I knew, in the final analysis, it was up to me. I never lacked for confidence. Even when I was younger, when I was losing a lot, I felt it was only a matter of time before I was the best." Indeed, Lewis was once singled out at a Philadelphia track meet for youngsters by Jesse Owens himself, who urged the other children to follow the example of "this spunky little guy."

A late bloomer, Lewis finally reached his goal of a 25-foot jump during his junior year at Willingboro High School. In 1978 he won at the national junior championships with a 9.3-second time in the 100-meter run and a 25-foot 9-inch long jump. He also received an All-American ranking in the 200-meter sprint. When he graduated from Willingboro in 1979, Lewis was the top-ranked high school track athlete in the country. The years of dedicated practice, the quiet self-confidence, and the sense of destiny had set the stage for a phenomenal track and field career.

"King Carl"

In the autumn of 1979 Lewis entered the University of Houston on an athletic scholarship. There he worked with coach Tom Tellez, an expert on body mechanics who suggested improvements in Lewis's style of jumping. Lewis was perceived as a natural talent who could also implement new strategies without suffering setbacks. After just one year of college he qualified for the 1980 Olympic team and was one of the many athletes who saw opportunity pass them by when former President Jimmy Carter cancelled the United States' participation in the Games.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Lewis solidified his top national ranking in the long jump and the 100-meter dash at the 1981 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) indoor championships. He was the first athlete to win two events at an NCAA championship and was awarded the Amateur Athletic Union's Sullivan Award.

In 1982 Lewis left the University of Houston to compete under the auspices of the Santa Monica Track Club in California. Coach Tellez followed him west and continued to work closely with him. By 1983 Lewis had become a winner in four categories: long jump, 100-meter run, 200-meter run, and 400-meter relay. He notified the world that he was ready for the 1984 Olympics by winning three gold medals at the track and field world championships in Helsinki, Finland, in 1983. During the early months of 1984 he set an indoor world record by long jumping twenty-eight feet, ten-and-a-half inches. With speed, consistency, and desire, Lewis looked like a conquering hero who would return from the 23rd Olympics covered with gold medals.

America loves its heroes, and the press was quick to descend upon the young track star who predicted with all confidence that he would win four events in Los Angeles in the summer of 1984. Unfortunately for Lewis, his confidence was perceived in some quarters as arrogance—he showed up late for press conferences, made candid remarks about how much money he hoped to earn, and questioned the whole business of amateur athletics. Brad Hunt, a sports agent, told the New York Times Magazine that Lewis "became so big and so hyped that the bandwagon became unappealing before people even started jumping on it." Hunt noted that a member of Lewis's entourage had hinted that the athlete might someday earn as much as singer Michael Jackson. "I don't think the sporting press, and that's where your image starts, wanted the Olympic hero to be Michael Jackson," Hunt said. "They wanted the Olympic hero to be Jesse Owens, who up until that time was the symbol of Olympia, the man who did it for the glory of the country and the thrill of participation."

Lewis went to the 1984 Olympics under intense media scrutiny, and he fulfilled his astounding predictions. He won a gold medal in the 100-meter sprint with a time of 9.99 seconds. His performance in the second event, the long jump, drew jeers from the crowd when he decided to let his first leap of twenty-eight feet, one quarter inch stand and pass on the last four tries to avoid the risk of injury. No one beat him at that distance, and he took a second gold medal. For his third, Lewis set an Olympic record with a 19.8-second run in the 200-meter race. Last but not least, the athlete anchored the 400-meter relay team to an Olympic record victory at 37.83 seconds.

One might expect fame and fortune to follow such exploits, but Lewis found himself nicknamed "King Carl" in the press. A lucrative product endorsement contract with Nike was cancelled, and no others followed in the United States. Track is a worldwide sport, however, and Lewis fared far better in Europe and Japan, where he became a hero. He continued to participate in important indoor and outdoor track meets, consistently winning the 100-meter dash and the long jump. Stung by negative press coverage, which he asserted was often twisted and biased, he refused to conform to others' expectations. "I was supposed to be humble and nice and say, 'Thank you for coming out,' and be totally accessible," the athlete was quoted as saying in the NewYork Times Magazine. "I'm not supposed to be able to speak clearly, and decipher what's going on in the media. I'm supposed to be the typical amateur who's 22 and scared to death and can't believe he won the Olympics."

A new cloud appeared on Lewis's horizon in 1985: Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who began to beat Lewis steadily in the 100-meter sprint. Lewis came to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, as the underdog in the 100-meter event, a position that helped his media image immensely. Initially he ran second in Seoul to Johnson, who finished the 100-meter in record time. Lewis was given the gold medal by default soon afterward, when it was revealed that Johnson had used anabolic steroids. Lewis earned a second gold in Seoul for his signature event, the long jump.

Six gold medals in two successive Olympic games did little to improve "King Carl's" status with the media. As Gabriel put it, after the Johnson scandal at the 1988 Olympics, "Lewis … was not embraced as a conquering hero. To a large extent, his own victory was seen as tarnished, and he became swept up in the apparent blanket condemnation of the sport." Worse, Lewis himself was charged with steroid use by a former opponent, whose accusations were printed in the prestigious German periodical Stern. Lewis vehemently denied the charges—and sued the magazine—while willingly submitting to drug tests after numerous races. A staunch opponent of steroid use, Lewis has never been linked to drug use by anything but unsubstantiated rumor.

Vindicated in 1992

By 1992 Lewis had won eight world championship gold medals and had dominated the long jump for ten years. Age began to take a toll on the athlete, however. For a decade he had chased the outdoor long jump world record of Bob Beamon, only to watch Mike Powell reach that pinnacle at the 1991 world track and field championships in Tokyo, Japan. Lewis made four personal best jumps at the same meet but still could not beat Powell. The low point for Lewis came at the 1992 Olympic trials, where he failed to make the cut for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. He did qualify for the long jump and the 400-meter relay, and a week later he discovered that he had been suffering from a low-grade sinus infection.

Lewis experienced something at the 1992 Olympic trials that had long eluded him—total acceptance from an American crowd. He was given a standing ovation in New Orleans as his second-place finish in the long jump qualified him for an Olympic berth. Going into the Olympics as an underdog in his favorite event, Lewis remained true to form, predicting victory and more: appreciation, finally, for his decade of accomplishments. "I'm only 30 years old and I've had to deal with more than most people in an entire lifetime," he told the New York Times Magazine. "I went through the Olympics and people tried to put me down and tear me down and force me to retire. And for some silly reason I kept on running and ignored them, and now I've made it and I'm reaping the benefits of that perseverance. I'm publicly bigger than I've ever been, and it's a great thing to go through a career and be at this stage and everybody loves you the most."

The admiration of fans came showering down in Barcelona in 1992, when Lewis beat Powell in the long jump to earn his seventh gold medal, and then anchored the 400-meter relay for an eighth. Sports Illustrated contributor Gary Smith wrote, "In [Lewis's] early years as a world-class athlete, there was sometimes almost a desperation in the way he made sure you knew this about him: He was not just a trackman. He was limitless. But in the end there was one thing he couldn't escape: his own talent. One by one, all the trappings that were supposed to make him unique fell away like leaves, leaving only this rare, bare-trunk truth: Excelling at the simplest things—running and jumping—for the longest time is what has made Carl Lewis unlike any athlete who ever lived."

Following the 1992 Olympics, Lewis' performance began to suffer a bit, prompting speculation that he may be feeling his age. In August 1993 he won only one medal at the World Track and Field Championships, a bronze in the 200 meters. He blamed it on a back injury he had suffered in an automobile accident in February, and did make a bit of a comeback in early 1994, helping his Santa Monica Track Club teammates to a world record (1:18.68) in the 4x200 relay, and clocking a 10.04 in the 100 meters at the Houston Invitational in May.

But by 1995 Lewis was being beaten consistently by the young up-and-comers in the track world. "When you've been to 14 Mount SAC Relays or 13 of this meet or 11 of this, you don't approach it the same way," he told Sports Illustrated. "I have a difficult time getting focused for some of the meets I've been to so many times. But the one thing I've kept is my enthusiasm for training and for major meets." But Lewis's status as a world-class athlete was in question in some circles. The top sprinter of 1994, Dennis Mitchell, told the Chicago Tribune, as quoted by Sports Illustrated, "Right now, all the other sprinters in the world aren't worried about Carl at all."

Lewis plans to keep competing in track and field events as long as he can continue to win. He even participated in the 1996 Olympic trials, and won a chance to participate in the long jump—and compete for his fourth straight gold in the event—at the Atlanta Games. On July 29, 1996, he easily won the top medal with a distance of twenty-seven feet, ten and three-quarters inches. He has no intention of hanging onto the sport until much younger—and less talented—runners pass him by. With endorsement contracts from Panasonic, among others, and hefty appearance fees, he is a wealthy man who plans to retire and perhaps run for political office in Houston. His experiences as world and Olympic champion along with his Christian faith have helped Lewis develop a philosophy about his singular career. "Everybody has difficult times," he remarked in the Philadelphia Daily News. "If you expect life to be wonderful and everybody to love you and everything special to happen to you all the time, then you're not really dealing with the real world."

Eight of Lewis's Olympic gold medals are still in his possession. The ninth—his first, for the 100-meter sprint, was buried with his father Bill in May of 1988. "My father was most proud of the 100," Lewis revealed in the Philadelphia Daily News. "More than anything, he wanted me to win that medal. … Now he has it and he'll always have it."

Further Reading

Lewis, Carl, and Jeffrey Marx, Inside Track: My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field, S and S Trade, 1990.

The Olympics Factbook: A Spectator's Guide to the Winter and Summer Games, Visible Ink Press, 1992.

Esquire, April 1983.

Inside Sports, August 1984.

Newsweek, August 20, 1984; July 27, 1992.

New York Times Magazine, June 17, 1984; July 19, 1992.

Time, June 17, 1996.

Philadelphia Daily News, July 26, 1984; August 2, 1984; January 25, 1985; July 23, 1985; June 3, 1988; June 25, 1992; August 7, 1992.

Sports Illustrated, August 17, 1992.

Washington Post Magazine, July 22, 1984. □

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Lewis, Carl

Carl Lewis

Born: July 1, 1961
Birmingham, Alabama

African American track and field athlete

One of track and field's greatest performers, Carl Lewis in 1984 became the first African American athlete since Jesse Owens (19131980) in 1936 to win four gold medals in Olympic competition. He won nine gold medals in four straight Olympics.

A lifetime of dedication

Born on July 1, 1961, in Birmingham, Alabama, Frederick Carlton Lewis is the son of two star athletes who attended Tuskegee Institute. His father, Bill, ran track and played football; his mother, Evelyn, was a world-class hurdler (a runner who jumps over a series of hurdles) who represented the United States at the 1951 Pan-American Games. By the time Carl, the third of four children, was born, his parents were coaching young athletes in track and field events.

When Carl was still young, his family moved to Willingboro, New Jersey. There his parents worked as high school teachers and founded the Willingboro Track Club. Lewis was not as talented as his brothers and sister, and his parents encouraged him to pursue music lessons instead. He kept working and practicing the long jump in his back yard, determined to improve. Small and skinny, Lewis competed in track meets, losing far more than he won. Still, his dedication and confidence caught the eye of Jesse Owens himself at a meet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Owens urged other children to follow the example of the "spunky little guy." When he graduated from Willingboro High School in 1979, Lewis was the top-ranked high school track athlete in the country.

Continues to improve

In 1979 Lewis entered the University of Houston (Texas) on an athletic scholarship. He worked with coach Tom Tellez, who suggested improvements in Lewis's style of jumping. After just one year of college Lewis qualified for the 1980 Olympic team, only to see opportunity pass him by when former President Jimmy Carter (1924) cancelled the United States' participation in the Games in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Lewis kept his top national ranking in the long jump and the 100-meter dash at the 1981 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) indoor championships. He was the first athlete to win two events at an NCAA championship.

In 1982 Lewis left the University of Houston to work at the Santa Monica Track Club in California. Coach Tellez continued to work closely with him. By 1983 Lewis had become a winner in four categories: long jump, 100-meter run, 200-meter run, and 400-meter relay. He won three gold medals at the track and field world championships in Helsinki, Finland, in 1983. During the early months of 1984 he set an indoor world record in the long jump. It appeared Lewis would return from the twenty-third Olympics covered with gold medals.

Backs up predictions

Lewis's announcement that he would win four events in Los Angeles, California, in the 1984 Summer Olympics was viewed by many as arrogant, but he backed up his talk. He won the 100-meter sprint with a time of 9.99 seconds. His long jump effort of twenty-eight feet earned him a second gold. For his third, Lewis set an Olympic record with a 19.8-second run in the 200-meter race. Finally, he led the 400-meter relay team to an Olympic record victory at 37.83 seconds. Rather than being praised, Lewis was mocked by writers as "King Carl" for his brash predictions and for showing up late to press conferences. An endorsement contract (agreement to promote a company's products in return for money) with Nike was cancelled, and Lewis received no others in the United States, although in Europe and Japan he became a hero. Lewis continued to participate in indoor and outdoor track meets.

In 1985 Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson (1961) arrived on the scene, and he began to beat Lewis regularly in the 100-meter sprint. At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, Lewis ran second to Johnson, who won the 100-meter event in record time. Lewis was awarded the gold medal soon afterward when Johnson was found to have used steroids (illegal substances that improve athletic performance). Lewis earned a second gold in Seoul for the long jump, but his continued success did little to improve his popularity. Worse, Lewis himself was charged with steroid use by a former opponent. Lewis denied the charges and sued the magazine in which they were published; he also agreed to submit to drug tests after races. Lewis has never been linked to drug use by anything but rumor.

Finally accepted

By 1992 Lewis had won eight world championship gold medals and had owned the long jump for ten years. Age began to take its toll on him, however. He watched Mike Powell break Bob Beamon's outdoor long jump world record at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo, Japan. Lewis made four personal best jumps at the same meet but still could not beat Powell. At the 1992 Olympic trials, Lewis failed to make the cut for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. He did qualify for the long jump and the 400-meter relay, and a week later he discovered that he had been suffering from a sinus (a cavity in the skull connected to the nostrils) infection.

Lewis experienced something at the 1992 Olympic trials that he had never receivedtotal acceptance from an American crowd. He was given a standing ovation in New Orleans, Louisiana, as his second-place finish in the long jump qualified him for an Olympic berth. The admiration of fans came showering down in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992, when Lewis beat Powell in the long jump to earn his seventh gold medal and then anchored the 400-meter relay for his eighth.

One more time

Following the 1992 Olympics, Lewis's performance began to decline, and by 1995 he was being beaten regularly by younger athletes. Still, Lewis participated in the 1996 Olympic trials and won a chance to compete in the long jump at the games in Atlanta, Georgia. He easily won his fourth straight gold in the event. With endorsement contracts from Panasonic, among others, and large personal appearance fees, he became a wealthy man and considered running for political office in Houston, Texas.

In 1999 Lewis was named one of the century's greatest athletes at the Sports Illustrated 20th Century Sports Awards ceremony. In 2000 he said he still felt he could compete at the Olympic trials but would not do so until the problem of athletes using drugs was addressed. He still attended the games in Sydney, Australia, participating in a ceremony to honor the McDonald's Olympic Achievers, young people from around the world chosen for their success in school-work, athletics, and community service. In December 2001 Lewis was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. He also tried acting, appearing in the 2002 television movie Atomic Twister.

Eight of Lewis's Olympic gold medals are still in his possession. The ninthhis first, for the 100-meter sprintwas buried with his father Bill in May of 1988. "My father was most proud of the 100," Lewis revealed in the Philadelphia Daily News. "More than anything, he wanted me to win that medal. Now he has it and he'll always have it."

For More Information

Coffey, Wayne. Carl Lewis. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1993.

Klots, Steve. Carl Lewis. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.

Lewis, Carl, and Jeffrey Marx. Inside Track: My Professional Life in Amateur Track and Field. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

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Lewis, Carl

Carl Lewis (Frederick Carlton Lewis), 1961–, American sprinter and jumper, b. Birmingham, Ala. A star in high school and at the Univ. of Houston, he became possibly the greatest track athlete of all time. After winning three gold medals at the World Championships in Helsinki in 1983, he went on at the 1984 Summer Olympics to match Jesse Owens's record by winning four gold medals (the 100-m and 200-m sprints, the long jump, and the 4 × 100-meter relay). He also won three medals—two gold and one silver—at the 1988 Olympic games, two gold again in 1992, and another gold in 1996, tying the record for most gold medals overall (nine). He retired in 1997.

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Lewis, (Frederick) Carl

Lewis, (Frederick) Carl ( Carlton) (1961– ) US track and field athlete. In a glittering career, Lewis won nine Olympic gold medals: 100m, 200m, 4 × 100m relay, and long jump (1984, Los Angeles), equalling Jesse Owens' feat; 100m and long jump (Seoul, 1988); long jump and 4 × 100m relay (Barcelona, 1992); and long jump (Atlanta, 1996). Lewis set 100m world records at the Seoul Olympics (9.97sec) and the 1991 World Championships (9.86sec).

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