No. 12: Carl Lewis
Running on pride
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
"The whole thing is that the [track] athletes were treated like dirt. None of them ever spoke up. I was not going to be treated that way. I was not taught that way. I was not raised that way. I saw professional basketball. I saw baseball. I saw football and I knew how they were being treated. I said, 'Why can't track be the same way?'" says Carl Lewis on ESPN's SportsCentury show (Friday, Nov. 5, 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 7, 8 a.m. ET).
Lewis, who won a record-tying nine Olympic gold medals and didn't lose for a decade in the long jump, was voted No. 12 among North American athletes of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel.
July 29, 1996 -- At the Olympic Trials last month, Lewis came in third in the long jump, qualifying by an inch over the fourth-place finisher. Last night, he needed his longest jump in two years on his third and last chance to even qualify for tonight's final.
Lewis has not been a factor in the event since winning Olympic gold in 1992. At 35, he sought to defy age and his critics. While others had given up on him, Lewis still believed he had enough spring left in his legs to uncork one last leap into history.
It came on his third attempt. He soared 27 feet, 10¾ inches into a stiff headwind. It was good for gold. Sixteen years after being booed in Los Angeles because he did not challenge Bob Beamon's world record, he was the undisputed hero in Atlanta. The crowd of 82,773 shouted its love.
The unexpected and stunning victory gave King Carl his ninth Olympic gold medal, tying him for the largest gold collection with U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz, Finnish long-distance runner Paavo Nurmi and Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina. It also put him in the classy company of discus thrower Al Oerter, who congratulated him in the interview room, as the only track and field athletes to win the same event in four consecutive Olympics.
At the end of the night, Lewis scooped sand from the long- jump pit into a plastic bag. Like his career, this was for the ages.
Odds and ends As a youngster, Lewis attended plays and musicals with his mother Evelyn and took classes in dance, swimming, cello and piano.
An 18-year-old freshman at the University of Houston in 1980, Lewis won his first NCAA championship in the long jump and then earned a berth on the Olympic team by finishing second in the Trials with a jump of 26-3½. However, because of the U.S. boycott, Lewis did not compete at the Moscow Games.
He won the 1981 Sullivan Award as the top U.S. amateur athlete when he became the second person to win the 100 meters and long jump in the NCAA championships. Lewis' idol, Jesse Owens, was the first.
His fastest time ever in the 200 meters was 19.75 seconds at the U.S. championships in 1983. He also won the long jump and 100 meters.
Later that year, Lewis tripled again at the World Championships in Helsinki and set his first world record - as part of the 4x100-meter U.S. relay team. He also won the long jump (28-¾) and 100 meters (9.97 seconds). Lewis would win eight gold medals in the World Championships, earning three more gold in 1987 and two in 1991.
Though he didn't play college football, Lewis was drafted in the 12th round by the Dallas Cowboys as a wide receiver in 1984.
Two months later, the Chicago Bulls drafted him in the 10th round.
At the 1984 Olympics, while Lewis was winning his four gold medals, his younger sister Carol placed ninth in the long jump.
Lewis won the Jesse Owens International Trophy in 1985 as the top amateur athlete in the world.
At the funeral for his father in 1987, Lewis took his 1984 Olympic gold medal for the 100 meters and put it in his father's hands, saying, "I want you to have this because it was your favorite event." When his mother appeared surprised, Lewis told her, "Don't worry. I'll get another one."
At the 1988 Games, Lewis lost the 100 meters to Ben Johnson, but he was convinced the Canadian was using steroids. When urine samples confirmed his suspicion, Lewis was awarded the gold medal.
In winning the 1988 Olympic long jump, Lewis had the four longest jumps, topping out at 28-7¼ .
He was named the 1991 USOC Sportsman of the Year.
After winning the 1996 Olympic long jump, he sought to run on the 4x100 relay team, but was rebuffed.
In 1996, he earned the No. 1 ranking in the long jump 15 years after gaining it for the first time.
He ended his competitive career on Aug. 26, 1997 at the Berlin Grand Prix, anchoring the 4x100 relay. Donovan Bailey, Leroy Burrell and Frank Fredericks were his teammates.