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Carl Lewis - The "next Jesse Owens"

Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldCarl Lewis Biography - Growing Up, The "next Jesse Owens", The 1984 Olympics, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY LEWIS:

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 autobiography—whose 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.

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