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Lewis golden boy of '84 Olympics


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 1999

The record -- four track and field gold medals in one Olympics -- had stood for 48 years, since Jesse Owens won the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and 4x100-meter relay in front of Adolf Hitler, exposing the Nazi lie of Aryan superiority.

And after the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, Carl Lewis said, "Jesse Owens was my inspiration. Knowing that he had to go through the same things I had to go through at the 1936 Berlin Games inspired me.

"I was so touched that they remembered Jesse at the Opening Ceremonies when they let his granddaughter Gina carry the torch into the stadium. ... I just felt that Jesse was there in spirit."

And Lewis was there in the flesh, winning gold medals in the same four events, the last one on Aug. 11, 1984, anchoring the relay team to a 37.83-second clocking, the Games' only world record.

"I came to these Games with the intention of winning four gold medals. I did it," Lewis said. "This has been the time of my life."

After the medal ceremonies, Lewis' teammates carried him off the field, surprising some observers considering that some teammates had criticized him for demanding special treatment.

"Carl is a good friend," said Ron Brown, who ran the second leg of the 4x100 relay. "He set some goals and he achieved them. People should respect that. A lot of people think he's a showboat, but I don't think so."

Some of his critics took issue with two specific incidents:

After winning the 100 meters, Lewis carried a large American flag around the track. Some thought he had planted it in the stands before the race so he could attract attention after it.

After his first two leaps in the long jump, Lewis chose to pass on his final four attempts.

"It was spontaneous," Lewis said of his victory lap with the flag. "I felt so much pride for the USA, I just wanted to grab something American."

He saw the flag in the stands, Lewis said, waved the man holding it to come to the railing, then grabbed it and took off. "His mouth was open and he was in shock. ... Then I returned and handed it back to him. His mouth was still open."

As for the long jump, he figured -- correctly -- that his 28-foot, 1/4-inch first effort would be good enough to win.

"I fouled on the second jump," he said. "The weather was getting cold and I had two more events to run, so I made the decision to rise and fall on my first jump. As it happened, it turned out to be the right decision."

When he received the long-jump gold medal, he presented it to Ruth Owens, Jesse's widow. She had said that "my victories were like watching Jesse, because she didn't have a chance to see him perform in Berlin." He picked the long-jump gold because it was Owens' favorite event and "because it means the most to me."

-- Information from 100 Greatest Moments in Olympic History by Bud Greenspan ($40, General Publishing Group) was used in this report.

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