Regarded as one of the most influential athletes in the 116-year-history of the modern Olympic Games, Carl Lewis, who hails from Alabama, has won 17 global championships from 1983 through 1996, putting the United States of America on the world stage as occurred with Jesse Owens in the 1930s and Mark Spitz in the 1970s.
With the exception of Owens and Joe Louis, few athletes from Alabama are better known than Carl Lewis. In the past decades, he was member of five U.S. Olympian squads : Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984, Korea 1988, Barcelona 1992, and Atlanta 1996. He also was three-time Male Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News (1982-1984).
Many people across of the United States and around the globe did not know his name until 1984 as he was an Olympian star during the 23rd Olympiad, becoming an idol for America’s citizens, especially among schoolchildren (from Arkansas and North Dakota to Nebraska and North Carolina ).
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, on July 1, 1961, Frederick Carlton Lewis was introduced into to track when he attended Willingboro High School in New Jersey. Subsequently, he entered University of Houston (Texas), where was coached by Tom Tellez, specializing in the long jump, 100m and 200m. Under the direction of Mr.Tellez, a native of Puerto Rico, Lewis became one of the top junior athletes of the world, competing in the long jump and 4x 100m relay.
At the 1979 Pan American Sports Games on Puerto Rico
At the age of eighteen, Lewis made his first international appearance when he left Houston for San Juan, capital city of Puerto Rico, to compete in the VIII Pan American Sports Games. On the island of Puerto Rico, the young Lewis came in third in the men’s long jump with a mark of 8.13m, behind Joao Carlos de Oliveira of Brazil (8.18) and David Giralt of Cuba (8.15).
Within a year, he ended his sporting career as a young male athlete at the Under-20 Junior Pan American Championships, earning the gold in the men’s 100-meter run. Then, he began a new era in his athletic career.
The next year, by 1980, he made no secret of his Olympian ambitions. The up-and-coming athlete wanted to compete in the Summer Games in the former Soviet Union/USSR. But by the mid-1980, he —and other athletes such as Isiah Thomas (basketball), Renaldo Nehemiah (athletics), and Kurt Thomas (gymnastics)— did not take part in the Moscow Olympiad due to the American boycott, led by then President Jimmy Carter. Since then, this decision was a hit to the country’s athletes. For the first time, the U.S. Olympic Committee declined to send ab American delegation (with a long history as a major player in the Olympic Movement) to the Summer Games.
Los Angeles 1984
At the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials, the young from Alabama had gained the right to go to Moscow, the Olympian capital. Lewis qualified to compete in long jump and 4x100m relay. The following year, he established some international records, allowing him winning special awards, as occurred when he, not yet 21, won the James E. Sullivan Memorial Trophy, defeating many Olympic champions -among them Edwin Moses (athletics), Phil Boggs (diving), and Donald Haldeman (shooting)— and becoming one of the youngest winners to receive that honor. A couple of years, he arrived in Helsinki (Finland) to compete in the World Championships, where he amassed two individual golds: 100m and long jump. In addition, he helped the American squad set a new global record of 37.86 seconds in the men’s 4x100m relay, winning his third gold in Scandinavia.
The year of 1984 was a time crucial in Lewis’ Olympian career. During the Los Angeles Games, he caught the international attention when he picked up a total of four Olympic gold medals in track-and-field: 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay, equalling the record of Jesse Owens,who had won golds at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
Lewis’ Chief Rival : Canada’s Ben Johnson
By 1987, Lewis took part in the Pan American Games in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the American track star won two continental titles; historically, Lewis is one of the few world-class athletes from the States to compete in these Games. Subsequently, came the III World Championships, which were held in Rome, Italy. In the men’s 100m, the final was between two of the finest North American sprinters: Ben Johnson of Canada (who refused to participate at the 1987 Pan American Games) and Lewis. The Canadian won.
During the 1988 Seoul Games, the long -awaited showdown between Ben Johnson —world record holder— and Lewis occurred. There, Lewis again lost the 100 meter-run to Canada’s Johnson. Despite all of this, Lewis won the “battle”: The Jamaican-born Canadian sprinter was disqualified in the men’s 100m after testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozol. Immediately, the gold medal was to Lewis.
Atlanta 1996 Olympics
On August 6, 1992, the American track-and-field athlete took first place in the men’s long jump in the Games of the XXV Olympiad in the Spaniard city of Barcelona. Then, at Barcelona’s Montjuic Olympic Stadium, he won other gold medal as a member of the men’s 4×100-meter relay team, alongside Michael Marsh, Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell, and James Jett. As will as winning the gold, the U.S. team set a new world record of 37.40 seconds. Four year later, Lewis gained the long jump ( 8.50-27′ 10 3/4″) in the Olympiad in Atlanta (Georgia, USA), becoming only the second athlete ever to earn golds for the same event in four consecutive Summer Games: Los Angeles 1984 (8.54m-28 ¼”), Seoul 1988 (8.72m -28′ 1/2″) and Barcelona 1992 (8.67m-28′ 5 ½).
Historically, Carl Lewis is one of the most decorated athletes in the Summer Games, with a total fo nine gold medals — along with Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, Paavo Nurmi of Finland, and Larisa Latynina from the USSR. Besides of this achievement, he is one of the most famous athletes in track-and -field history.