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Carl Lewis: Long Jumper Who Strived for Perfection on Track & Field


Carl Lewis represented the United States in multiple track & field events – 100m, 200m, 4 by 100m and the long jump. He won an Olympic gold medal in all these events to underscore his dominance in the discipline. This puts him on an illustrious list of athletes who’ve won a medal in each event in four successive Olympic Games. 

Additionally, Lewis set the world records in the sprint events. After his retirement, he ventured into business, acting and tried to run for a political office.  

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Carl Lewis’ Early Life

spotcovery-Carl Lewis in midair during a long jump for track and field as an athlete at the University of Houston.
Carl Lewis in midair during a long jump for track and field as an athlete at the University of Houston. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain

Frederick Carlton Lewis was born in Alabama. His parents were involved in athletics which rubbed on him and his siblings. His brother played soccer and his sister was a long jumper. 

Lewis got into long jumping at the age of 13. Initially, his father trained him but then, his high school coach at Willingboro took over. From very early on, he showed signs of becoming a great athlete.  

The long jumper rounded up his high school career with a record-breaking jump of 8.13 m (26 ft 8 in), ranking him fifth among the world’s best long jumpers. Multiple colleges approached him but Lewis settled for the University of Houston

This is where he met his career-long coach Tom Tellez and continued with his winning streak. Lewis jumped 8.35m to win the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) title. 

At the same time, his sprinting abilities showed and he was part of the 4 by 100m American relay team at the 1980 Olympics. However, his debut on the world stage was delayed by the American boycott.

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Professional Career

A review of the life of Carl Lewis. Video Credit: Brut America

Carl Lewis was a champion in waiting. He put the botched Olympics behind him and shot to global prominence in 1981. He jumped to a distance of 8.62m, bettering his high school jump. At the same time, Lewis ran 10.00 seconds in the 100m and became the world’s fastest man. 

His next quest was to break Bob Beamon’s long jump record of 8.90m. Unfortunately, he never broke the record. The furthest he jumped was 8.87m in the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan. His arch nemesis Mike Powell is the current world record holder in the same event. 

Reflecting on this, he acknowledged Powell’s mental and physical strength and their 10-year rivalry, which he dominated. 

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Sprinting Career

Although Lewis is largely remembered for his long jump career, he was a great sprinter. He collected multiple gold medals in the 100m and 200m races and the relay. 

In his first Olympic Games in 1984 in Los Angeles, he bagged gold in all his events and repeated this in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, except in the 200m, where he got a silver medal. 

In Barcelona in 1992, Lewis was a gold medalist in the 4 by 100m and the long jump. He also raked in eight gold medals in the World Championships.  

While winning the medals, Carl Lewis set the world record in the 100m, finishing the 100m in 9.86 seconds in 1991. In 1988, his second-place finish was elevated to a first after Ben Johnson, who ran 9.83 seconds and set a world record, was banned for doping. 

To think that Lewis ran under 10 seconds 15 times during his era just outlines his athletic prowess. In his interview with El Pais English, he avoided comparing himself with former Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. Additionally, he acknowledged the role of shoe technology in advancing athletic performance and described it as evolution. 

Carl Lewis was a rare breed. Nowadays, athletes specialize early thus, the chance of an elite athlete competing in different disciplines is rare. He was recognized for his achievements, having won multiple Athlete of the Year awards.

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