|Date of Birth
||1 July 1961
|Place of Birth
||Birmingham, Alabama, USA
The greatest and most famous athlete of the last century, who formerly won about 20 gold medals in four different events (100 m, 200 m, long jump and 4x100 relay), is called Carl, which is a nick that hides his true identity: Frederick Carlton Lewis.
He was born on 1st July 1961 in Birmingham, Alabama, the same country of Jesse Owens for the will of doom: in fact his parents lived there fleetingly owing to their job. Third of five sons, he spent his childhood in Willingboro together with his younger sister Carol, Bill, his dad and Evelyn, his mother. Since his first years of life he could breath the soft and clean air of sport: his father used to train athletes at university and his mother was 6th at 80 m hurdles in the Pan-American games of 1951.He saw the Olympic games of 1968 on TV and could admire Bob Beamon: he was so impressed that after the jump of 8,90 m he went out with a friend to take the length of a limousine in order to realize how far Bob flied! But for the moment Carl was really thin, so thin that the doctor suggested to make him do sports. His education, beyond studies, embraced a lot of fields. He learnt to play musical instruments, to dance, to sing and applied himself to a large variety of sports: football, soccer (he played with his brother Cleveland as a forward!), diving and, obviously, athletics. As he himself tells, he wasn't good at sport. A lot of boys did better at the same age and he was regularly beaten by his sister Carol in the track his parents constructed for them around the garden of their house!
Amazingly his father was a friend of Jesse Owens and so Carl grew up under the legend of this man who won four gold medals in the Olympic games of Berlin 1936. Carl begun with long jump and after a competition, at the age of 10, he was awarded by Owens himself. But a sad episode made people worry for his career. When he was 12, after having sung in the chorus of the church, he went to play with other children but, not paying the right attention, he stumbled and got a deep wound in the right knee. What worried the most was that his tendon was about to be cut and doctors stated he would have never jumped like before. Fortunately he could go on practicing long jump and at the age of 13 he jumped 5,51 m. Then in the years after he realized a nice progression in this event: 6,07 m, 6,93 m, 7,26 m and 7,85 m when he was 17. Trainers pointed out him as a young promise. In fact in 1979 he was allowed to enter the national team and to take part to the Pan-American games in San Juan, Portorico. He arrived 1 hour late (because trainers gave him the wrong program of the games) but judges made him jump anyway after Carl's explanation. And it was really a worthy decision: he placed third with 8,13 m at the last jump. A prophetic measure as it was formerly Owens' world record (which lasted 25 years). Meanwhile he spent part of his time even to train in 100 m and in 1979 he run 10"67.
Only boycott prevented him to be at the Olympic games of Moscow the following year. In Eugene he gained the ticket for the long jump (2nd with 8,01 m) and 4x100 m relay (4th in 100 m). He improved a lot in 100 m, running 10"21 s while in the long jump he landed at 8,11 m. Then in 1981, the year of his great explosion, a lot of things changed. He settled to Houston, accepting the invite of Tom Tellez, who was among the most famous trainers, and frequents a course of telecommunications at university. At Dallas, in the same day, he wins 100 m stopping chronometers on 10"00, the best time at sea level of ever, and then wins 200 m (20"73) and long jump (8,25)! Then he becomes the national champion at Sacramento in 100 m (beating Sanford and Floyd) and long jump, where with the measure of 8,62 m sets the new the universitary record. Towards the end of the season at Zurich he still has the energies to jump 8,52 m against an opposite wind of 2,2 m/s. Then at Rome, after winning long jump he loses the 100 m thanks to an injury. This was a particular defeat for Carl as trainers told him he couldn't practice sprint and jumping at the same time. So he should have renounced to follow the footprints of Jesse Owens. Carl is stubborn and in 1982 improves in the long jump (8,76 m) and becomes more constant in 100 m. So in 1983 he was ready to do the general attempts for the Olympic games of the following year.
In fact the first edition of the world championship was expected and he qualified for 100 m, 200 m and long jump. He showed all his powerful qualities. On 19th June he runs the semi-final of 200 m in 20"15 s. Then he goes for the long jump. First jump: 8,71 m. Second jump: 8,79 m, leaving at least 20 centimetres before the limit! Carl got dressed again and went away. Two hours later he's ready for the final of 200 m. His acceleration burns the track and, twenty meters far from the goal, raises his arms and greets the spectators. Final time: 19"75!! Journalists, who were astounded, asked him why he didn't try to break the world record (19"72): "I run against opponents not against absents" he replied. So the World Championships of Helsinki confirmed his supremacy: three golds. It wasn't a secret Carl planned to win four gold medals at Los Angeles and he was at top during trials. He won all the competitions running 100 m in 10"06 (-2,2 m/s), 200 m in 19"86 (-0,2 m/s) and jumping 8,71 (+0,1 m/s). Two months later he's successful in winning four golds (100m ,200 m, long jump and 4x100 m relay). Equalizing Jesse Owens he becomes the "son of the wind" and "King Carl", two nicks which will take him up to the end of career. During the outdoor season he was unbeaten, except for a race of 300 m. In 1985 and 1986 Carl's races are rather poor except a 9"98 and a 8,62 in 1985. Then he had even a row with U.S. federation and didn't take part to U.S. championships. He works, together with Jeffrey Marx, on his biography ("Inside the track") and tries to sing. In 1986 he knows a new opponent: Ben Johnson, who humiliated him at Goodwill games running 9"95 against 10"06. In 1987 his father died of cancer.
At Roma, in the second edition of the world championships he achieved two golds (long jump and 4x100 relay) and a silver in 100 m behind Ben Johnson. The Canadian sprinter was his opposite: ugly, short, poor, awful in the running style. But he was powerful: at start he always earned two - three meters of advantage on Carl. So 1988, year of The Olympic games of Seoul, opened under the challenge of these two men. When Carl won the trials with a windy 9"78 and then beat Johnson at Zurich he seemed to be a dangerous rival for the Canadian. However Johnson won again with 9"79 and Carl finished really far with 9"92. Then, while attaining his first gold in the long jump, Johnson was disqualified for drug abuse and so Carl became automatically Olympic champion and owner of the world record (9"92). When Olympic games finished Carl came back home with two golds and one silver. A fact that makes notice for anyone else, but not for Carl Lewis. So, since the following year, Carl tried again to sing and continued to draw suits for his club. Meanwhile a sprinter of his clan, Leroy Burrell, brushed against his world record: 9"94 and beats him at Goodwill games. In the long jump Mike Powell becomes dangerous, and Carl won long jump just for 4 centimeters in the same games.
In 1991 he faced these ones at the World championships of Tokyo. He arrived in Japan as the number two of the sprint and the best of the long jump for 1 centimeters. Well, he came out from Japan as the number one of the sprint through a fantastic world record (9"86) and the number two of long jump, as the 8,95 of Mike Powell didn't give him any chance though e reached the measure of 8,91 (windy)! And so finished his record of victories in a row: 65. In 1992 Carl prepared the Olympic games but a strange thyroid's problem made him become weaker during trials and failed the qualifications in the 100 m and 200 m. So he had just the time to beat Powell for three centimeters (but with a set of jumps rather better) and win 4x100 relay achieving the 8th gold medal in the Olympic games.
Then the last years before the Olympic games of Atlanta showed his poorest figures of the career. At Stuttgart he's third in 200 m and 4th in 100 m (he lost, in that season, all the races on 100 m). His apparitions are few and an injury, in 1995, avoided to get a strong defeat at Goeteborg. Meanwhile he's protagonist of successful spots for Pirelli and Citroen. Carl didn't want to effort his body in order to save it for the Olympic games of 1996. But, like four years before, he got injured in 100 m and failed the qualification. In the 200 meters he didn't show a good form. So, for another time, his Olympic games concerned only long jump. In the last competition before the games he jumped only 8,00 m in an awful race and his trainers got a little disappointed for the performance. In fact, looking his high speed, he would have jumped at least 8,50 m. For the first time Carl Lewis really suffers. He's not the robot of Los Angeles. He's afraid. In fact in the qualifications of the long jump brushes against the elimination. Then, the third jump of the final is a human masterpiece: 8,50 although the wind blew against him. Now he's a legend in the legend: he joined the record of Al Oerter with the fourth gold in the same event. His professional career finished that day, with his terms of joy which revealed his hidden humanity.
In 1997 he just run some races to greet his fan and officially closed his career at Berlin, winning a relay together with Bailey, Fredericks and Burrell, the fastest men, with him, of ever in 100 m. Some weeks later he hailed his fans of Houston and concluded his history in the field which saw his trainings for 16 years. With a total of 17 golds between Olympic games and World championships he's the best athlete of every time. Someone could hardly do better in the future. Now Carl Lewis works as a stylist and manage his society, the "King Carl" always showing the diligence which made him the "son of the wind". He's even trying a successful actor's career and he's going to shoot his first movie.
Who has been the greatest rival of Carl among the three events he competed ? Was there a guy who used often to contend his crown ? We could treat this subject through different perspectives: splitting his career through time or through events... Anyway we'll speak about Ben Johnson who most people consider the greatest contender of Carl. In my opinion Ben was all but a real adversary since he used to take drug; since Seoul he became a sort of meteorite in Carl's track and field walkthrough as he was never stronger than him, he revealed to be a trick of the doom and just a shadow over Carl's victories. A normal Ben Johnson couldn't ever compete with Carl Lewis and he just disappointed Carl for two seasons in a total of 16! He was his greatest rival between Rome and Seoul, but after finding out the cheating of the Canadian their rivalry lost consistence comprehensively enough. So, looking from the top of Carl's career his agonistic appearance is useless. Generally we can say he had no rivals as strong as him that could try hard him for more of 5 seasons in the most lucky case. At the beginning of his career which saw the golds of Helsinki and Los Angeles Calvin Smith in the 100 m was the most strong after him and was able to run sometimes as fast as him. Anyway he was not so continuous as King Carl and often lost when running next to his shoulder. Calvin belongs to the same generation of Carl (they are both of 1961) and he had been always the number two of sprint since 1982 to 1988 never beating Carl in an important competition. Anyway he showed to be an hard opponent sometimes like in 1983. That year Carl renounced to take part to the 200 m in Helsinki and Smith won with 20"16s. Some people noted he gained the gold just for Carl's forfeit as this one already run 19"75s easily. At Zurich they run the 200 m shoulder to shoulder and Smith was victorious with 19"99s against 20"21s of Carl, which finished second. The same day Smith was even able to run the 100 m in 10"04 against a wind blowing at -2,2 m/s. This was really a great performance for Calvin and demonstrated that he could be a valorous rival for Carl. And in fact it has been so even if he was widely defeated in the most important competitions that Carl used to prepare demandingly. He was his main rival during 80s in the 100 m, while in the 200 m he was the strongest even if his races were poor in number. No one during 80s run 200 m so fast and easily as him with continuity, neither Joe De Loach (protagonist just in one season) did it (even if he unfortunately got injured!). The same happened for the long jump: no one was able to jump his great distances so often and he never lost a race. Emmyan and Myricks had been the eternal number two. So during this first stage of Carl's career no one was strong and continuous like him and used to beat him often.
At the beginning of 90s his executioners seem to take form: Leroy Burrell and Mike Powell. The first one is able to run 9"94, close to the world record Carl set up at 9"92 and he's Carl's team mate at Santa Monica Track club. The latter is a cheerful boy of Philadelphia who jumps 8,66 m at Lausanne in 1990. To tell the truth they've been the greatest rivals of Carl, but not for many time. Carl and Leroy had the direct challenge in 1991 trough two stages: in the first, at U.S. championships in New York, Leroy beat Carl sneaking the world record: 9"90. Carl is second with 9"93. In the same competition just one centimeter prevents his defeat from Powell! At Tokyo Carl must face these guys. We know the story: Carl saved the throne of 100 m but not the one of the long jump, losing the gold and the world record. Anyway let the statistics speak: Carl's balance against Powell is of 17 victories against 5 defeats. And Mike just beat Carl in an important event one time. Leroy Burrell, one of the most talented sprinter of the 90s hadn't any more chances to challenge Carl. He suffered a lot of injuries and he was compelled to close his career early. Anyway he was able to run 9"85 in 1994, beating Carl's record! In my opinion they've been different sprinters, more powerful Leroy and more elegant and aggressive Carl, which remains the strongest. I think Leroy is the most skilled opponent Carl found in the lanes of the 100 m. Don't speak me about Linford Christie: another 17 - 5 for Carl! Then think that before Gaetshead 1993 the balance was 16 - 1! I've no doubt the most dangerous opponents have been Burrell, Smith and Powell (this one in the last 4 years of Carl). We must not forget other great rivals: Kirk Baptiste (silver in the 200 m in Los Angeles and Carl's team mate), Myricks and Dennis Mitchell are good examples. The balance is however always heavily points out Carl as the strongest.
Eventually I'd underline Michael Johnson has not been Carl's rival. He revealed to the world of athletics when Carl was going to finish is career and run scarcely 200 m. Among their direct challenges I'd remember the victory of Michael at New Orleans (1992) and Carl's success in Lausanne in 1993. they never lived a considerable agonistic rivalry to tell the truth. Just press used to compare them as they were king of their own events. However Michael Johnson proved to be stronger than Carl in the 200 m and merits to be one of the greatest athletes of the century picking Carl's inheritance as number one in track and field.