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ATLANTA (AP) - Over a span of four Olympics, Carl Lewis leaped or ran
away from everyone except himself.
Even as he put the finishing touch on a peerless career with his ninth
gold and fourth consecutive long jump triumph Monday night, he couldn't
and wouldn't shake the shadow of controversy,
This should have been the moment for him to luxuriate in his most
satisfying and surprising victory, to soak up graciously the accolades
and applause he surely deserves. He won the long jump by more than eight
inches with a leap of 27 feet, 10_ inches.
But he wanted more.
He wanted a place on the 400 relay team to go for a record 10th gold
medal in his final Olympics, though he knew he won't get that spot and
hadn't earned it with his performances this year.
He wanted to let Michael Johnson and every other would-be usurper know
he was still King Carl.
He wanted, more than anything, to be respected, if not loved.
``I don't want to whine and bicker because I don't want to spoil the
moment,'' Lewis said, unable to stop himself as he spoke of his desire
to run the relay.
``The only experience left would be to become the all-time gold medal
winner. It's kind of sad it's not up to me. If it was up to me, I'd be
running in that relay, I'd be anchoring that relay, and I'd be doing a
For all his triumphs and records, Lewis has been distinctly unloved in
his own country by fans and some fellow competitors throughout his
career. Perversely, perhaps, he is idolized in much of the rest of the
world, from Europe to Japan.
Lewis' image problem began at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, when he
distanced himself from the rest of the team, limited media access to
him, and took only the one leap in the long jump that he needed to win.
In his disdain for the fans who hoped he would go for a world record,
Lewis came to be regarded as too cool for his own good.
He never escaped that image, never gave fans a reason to embrace him
the way they did other athletes. No one doubted he was the best, but
success does not always translate into affection.
By Seoul, Lewis had become an outspoken critic of athletes who use
performance-enhancing drugs. He all but accused Ben Johnson of being one
of those athletes before the games, and in doing so Lewis came across as
a whiner looking for excuses. Though Lewis proved to be right, and
Johnson was exposed as a cheater in the worst Olympic scandal, Lewis'
belated victory seemed anticlimactic and, in some ways, unearned.
By Barcelona, Lewis had begun to slow and yield to injury enough to
limit him to the long jump and a spot on the 400 relay team. With his
knack for coming up big when it counts, Lewis turned both of those
opportunities to gold.
Coming into Atlanta, Lewis had long lost his status as the world's
fastest man and even the best jumper. Back in 1991, Mike Powell had been
the one to break Bob Beamon's incredible Olympic record from 1968.
Though Lewis had more consistently good jumps over the years, Powell was
now ``the man,'' just as Michael Johnson declared himself ``the man'' in
It was suggested rather plainly, by Johnson and others, that Lewis say
goodbye to track and let others have the spotlight. To which Lewis
responded, essentially and quite rightly, stuff it.
``I brought a lot of passion, a lot of dedication, a lot of hard
work,'' he said Monday night of his contribution to the sport. ``Even
when other people thought I was wrong, I did what I thought was right.
I've taken a lot of heat, a lot of criticism, but it's the only way I
knew how to do it. Full speed ahead.''
This Olympics was expected to be Johnson's showcase, his chance to
assert to his dominance in the 200 and 400. He got the 400 all right,
but the night belonged to Lewis. How that must have galled Johnson!
If Johnson hoped for some sort of farewell speech from Lewis, some
acknowledgement that his time now is over, he would have to wait for
``I don't know what anybody has to do to pass the torch. There is no
manual, or at least I haven't found one yet,'' Lewis said. ``I'm too old
to bicker with younger people. I don't want to pick up dandelions, I
want to smell the roses. What Michael has to understand is there is no
such thing as passing the torch.''
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