Carl is known to be a consistent athlete for several years, winning 65 athletic competitions. Carl equalized the record of Jesse Owens after winning four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics event. When Lewis wound his fourth consecutive Olympic long jump in 1996, Rick Reilly from Sports illustrated wrote about him:
"You try to give a man a gold watch and he steals your gold medal instead. You ask him to pass the torch and he sets your Olympics on fire."
Carl Lewis full name is Frederick Carlton Lewis. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama on the 1st of July, 1961. His parents were running a local athletics club by that time and it had direct impact on Carl and his sister Carol to start a career as athletes. Lewis was only 13 when he started joining long jump competitions and was known by that time as the emerging athlete in Willingboro High School.
By his senior year in college, Lewis was known in New Jersey and later worldwide as one of the top long jumpers. Lewis’ father was a coach and trained other athletes along with Lewis, including the then–local runner and later Olympic medalist Tom Farrell. Many institutions were willing to enroll Carl, being one of the best athletes that he is. Carl opted for the University of Houston where Tom Tellez was, at that time, serving as the athletic coach.
In 1979, Lewis broke the long jump record of his school with a leap of 8.13 meters. With the confidence that he would excel in athletics, Lewis decided to make a living out of his ability even though track and field during that time was not considered a professional sport. Later that year, Lewis met Tellez for the first time after joining the University of Houston. Lewis told him that he wanted to become a millionaire but not by having a real job but through the sports that he loves.
It was also later that year after meeting Tellez that he was recognized by the record published on Track and Field News as the 5th in the 1979 All-Time World Rankings in Men’s Long Jump.
Qualifying for the Olympics
During the 1980 Olympic event, Lewis became qualified for the American team and was part of the 4x100 meter relay team. However, the US boycott of the 1980 Olympics made Carl Lewis unable to join the game. He instead played on the July 1980 Liberty Bell Classic event, which was an alternative meet–up for Olympic boycotting countries.
His talent as a long jumper and sprinter was again recognized in 1981 when he made a leap of 8.62 meters at the TAC Championships. Although only a teenager during that time, Lewis became the number two long jumper just after the legendary Bob Beamon. It was also during that year when Lewis was ranked as the world’s fastest sprinter on the 100 meter category.
He skipped a long jump competition in 1982 and told in his press conference that he wanted to set a record and he planned not to do it at the altitude because of some people’s belief that marks set at high altitude with thin air helps in the performance of athletes. Although in 1980s, when Lewis joined the jump and sprint events, the long jump records were set at high altitude in Mexico. In 1981, he was known to the world as the fastest man in 100m.
The Third Fastest Athlete in the History of Sprint
On May 16, 1981, he set the record at low-altitude and became the third fastest athlete in the history of sprint. Lewis won his first of six NCAA titles for the University of Houston and also topped the events of long jump and 100m competition. He also won the James E. Sullivan Award and became the top amateur athlete of the United States. His record of winning both track and field was a rare event which led to him being compared to another legendary athlete, Jesse Owens. It was the year 1982 that Carl Lewis dominated the exceptional 8.90 m event and challenged the record previously created by Bob Beamon.
In 1983 Carl Lewis participated in the first ever World Championships organized by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). According to the record, Lewis won with “relative ease” in the various events that he had joined in the competition that was held in Helsinki.
This championship event boasted a higher number of participating nations compared to the 1980 Olympics where political boycott led to some countries not joining the event. In the World Championships, Larry Myricks, who had defeated him in prior competitions, was the main rival of Lewis. Myricks surpassed the 8.53m but failed to qualify on the final round where Lewis became the champion.
Matching Jesse Owens’ Four Gold Medals in One Olympic Game
Lewis also defeated Calvin Smith, who had set a new world record in 100 m with 9.93 s performance, but Lewis defeated him by 10.07s to 10.21 s in 1983. He also won the 200m title on June 19, 1983, two months before the World Championships at TAC/Mobil Championship with best time of 19.75s. Lewis could have set the record on that event if he had not raised his hands in the final meters of the race. Aside from the World Championship event, Lewis also performed his best on all other athletic meets. On June 19, Lewis was ranked at number two in 200m at low-altitude. Track and Field News again named Carl Lewis as the Athlete of the Year in 1983.
The 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, California made Carl Lewis even more popular on the sports where he poured his time and talent. Before the game, Lewis aimed to win four gold medals in a single event in order to “cash in” on the endorsements that will follow. Lewis and his club manager Joe Douglas discussed to match Jesse Owens’ record of winning four gold medals in a single Olympic game. Lewis went on to match Owens record and defeated his fellow American Sam Grady by 0.20s.
He eventually won four gold medals but only few endorsements had come his way because, as what other legendary athletes like Edwin Moses had said, "A little humility is in order. That's what Carl lacks."
Lewis also had another challenge that he wanted to surpass, and that is by Bob Beamon, a challenge that even became a television ad with Beamon saying, “I hope you make it kid!!” Carl later decided not to vie for the record. His third gold medal was in 200m where he won with best time of 19.80s, setting a new record in Olympics.
Lewis did what he wanted to do; he matched Jesse Owens and performed an excellent job on his decade–long of great performance. Lewis, during that time, was expecting to get lucrative endorsement deals from top branding companies, but his self-congratulatory conduct did not impress the viewers and other track stars.
In the succeeding years after 1984, Lewis joined several events such as the 1987 World Championships, the 1988 Olympics, the 1991 and 1993 World Championships, and the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. The 1991 World Championships was his greatest performance where he defeated two previous champions and broke the world record in the 100 meter race.
The rumors about Lewis being gay also circulated and the perception of the public was not in his favor. His flattop haircut and flamboyant clothing were also criticized. Lewis and another athlete, Dwight Stones, were offered a lucrative deal by Coca-Cola, but the two turned it down and stated that Lewis was worth more than what they were offering after the 1984 Olympics. Coca Cola didn’t continue pursuing the offer after the Olympics ended. Not only did Coca Cola cancel the offer to Lewis, Nike, which he had a contract with for several years, also dropped him as an endorser with Nike representative Don Coleman saying, “If you're a male athlete, I think the American public wants you to look macho."
Although dropped by the two giant companies that could provide him more income in that year, Lewis went on to improve his performance and also his image after topping the 100m and long jump and ranking number one in 200m. He was also awarded the “Athlete of the Year” by the Track and Field News for the third time in a row.
Getting Drafted by the Chicago Bulls Along with Michael Jordan
Believe it or not, Lewis became one of the 1984 NBA Drafts by the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, although he didn’t play a game in the NBA. Lewis continued to dominate the track and field, but his low altitude record was surpassed by another American athlete, Mel Lattany. Also two years after in 1986, the Canadian Ben Johnson emerged as a big threat for Lewis who defeated him once in 1985. But in that same year, Lewis recovered his number one rank.
The 1986 Goodwill Games that was held in Moscow, however, became one of the low points for Lewis’ career when he lost to Ben Johnson in one of the latter’s most convincing win, with a record in new low-altitude time of 9.95s.
In the 1987 World Championship in Rome, Lewis regained the great performance that he had in 1984 after forging the 200m. He beat Robert Emmiyan on long jump with an 8.67m leap compared to Robert’s 8.53. His relay team also made a record as the third fastest team of all time when they finished the 4x100 m relay at 37.90s.
Lewis Suspects Johnson Used Drugs
Drama also unfolded during the 1987 World Championship when Ben Johnson beat Lewis on the 100m at a new and stunning record of 9.83 seconds with Lewis at 9.93. Lewis would go on explaining why he had lost to Johnson and talked about the use of performance enhancing drugs by other athletes.
As if losing a game on the 1987 World Championship were not enough, Lewis also experienced another “challenge” in his life that later altered his performance in the succeeding years. It was the year that his father, William McKinley Lewis Jr., died. The death of his father led him to become even more aggressive in his bid to win gold medals in all of the athletic championships that he had joined.
1988 was a great year for Lewis’ career because of the energy and the enthusiasm that he had shown to win in almost every athletic event that he was able to join. One of the main reasons of his renewed enthusiasm was the motivation that he got from his father.
Use of Steroids Gets Johnson Disqualified
In the 1988 Olympics, 100m final was one of the most dramatic Olympic events because Johnson set a new world record of 9.79s, while Lewis created a new American record with 9.92s, but the committee found out three days later that Johnson used steroids, leading to his disqualification. Lewis was recognized as the winner and he was credited with the new Olympic record.
Emerging in the 1988 Seoul Olympics was the new rival of Lewis in long jump—Mike Powell—as well as his other rival, Larry Myricks. But Lewis’ performance made him unbeatable in long jump with a leap of 8.72 meters.
During the 1991 World championship held in Tokyo, Lewis faced Raymond Stewart and Burrell, two athletes that were ranked number one in 100 m. He not only defeated Steward and Burrell but also created a new world record at 9.86s. The won brought tears to his eyes later as it was the best performance that he’d ever made. And Carl made it when he was 30 years old. He also became the main driver of the US 4x100m relay team that won and made a new record of 37.5s for the third time.
In the 1992 200m Olympic trial just before the start of Barcelona Olympics, Michael Johnson, a new comer and rising star set a record of 19.79s while Lewis made it only on the fourth place. Lewis however beat Powell in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and also anchored a world record in 4x100 m relay. His record remained unbeaten for the next 16 years. In 1993, Lewis completed the 4th World Championships in Stuttgart. He couldn’t compete in long jump but earned his first World Championships medal in the 200m event as well as his last medal in any running event both in Olympics and World Championships.
Carl Lewis became qualified to join the American Olympic team for the 5th time in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Both leading long-jumper Ivan Pedroso and Mike Powell were caught up in injuries, while Lewis was in good form which gave him full advantage. His overall long jump performance was perfect and his 3rd round leap of 8.50m has gained him a gold medal.
Third Olympian to Win the Same Event Four Times
Lewis became the third Olympian to win same individual event four times in Olympic history after Al Oerter and Paul Elvstrom. Lewis earned nine gold medals and tied in the list of multiple Olympic gold medalists along with Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, Larisa Latynina and Paavo Nurmi. In the category of masters’ record for 35-39 age group, Lewis’ 8.50m was tied officially by Larry Myricks.
In 1997, Carl Lewis retired from track and field and two years later in 1999, International Olympics Committee voted Lewis as the “Sportsman of the Century.” International Association of Athletics Federations elected Carl Lewis as World “Athlete of the Century.” The University of Houston, his alma mater, also recognized his great achievements by naming their International Complex “Carl Lewis” in honor of him in 2000.
The Drug Scandal
After several recognitions from various sports group, the United States Olympic Committee revealed in 2003 that Lewis was positive for ban stimulants such as bronchodilators, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine before the 1988 Olympics. Lewis’ lawyer Martin Singer stated later that "Carl did nothing wrong. There was never intent. He was never told, ‘you violated the rules’." Lewis and other athletes were cleared of the issue when the stimulants, which are part of over–the–counter cold medication, were proven to be not performance enhancing substance.
Carl Lewis is a vegan but is a member of Ronald McDonald House Charities of RMHC charity board and also an official supporter since 2007.
On the 16th of October, 2009, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization nominated Carl Lewis as a Goodwill Ambassador. In 2011, Lewis appeared as guest in the ESPN show “The College GameDay” which was aired live from the University of Houston, his alma mater. Lewis also participated in a pop song in 1993 before an NBA game between New Jersey Nets and Chicago Bulls. Carl Lewis has been mentioned by Biz Markie in a rap song “Nobody Beats the Biz” and rapper Eazy-E in “100 Miles and Runnin.”
The Usain Bolt Comment
In July 2012, Lewis was championing his fellow Americans and predicted that Gatlin and Gay would sweep the sprint titles. He also stated that Usain Bolt was too good to be true. On the other side of the story, Usain replied “I have no respect for Carl.”
Lewis told Reuters on June 3, 2012 that he is helping to coach the University of Houston 400 meter relay team in NCAA track and field championships. In September of 2012, Lewis made a statement in an interview that US has millions of foreigners and foreigners should be helped in same way for track and field as other people in Olympics but money from scholarships needs to go to American children.
- The Carl Lewis Foundation
- Best Buddies
- Ronald McDonald House of Charities
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
Awards & Achievements
- 1981: James E. Sullivan Award
- 1982 & 1991: Jesse Owens Award
- 1984: 208th overall draft by Chicago Bulls
- 1984: NFL Dallas Cowboys draft
- 1991: ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year
- 1999: International Olympic Committee's Sportsman of the Century
- 1999: Sports Illustrated's Olympian of the Century.
- 2000: Carl Lewis International Complex at Houston University was named after him
- Only man to defend an Olympic long jump title successfully
- Appeared in Perfect Strangers, Speed Zone!, Alien Hunter, Material Girls and Challenging Impossibility
- 1st athlete to win eight Olympic gold medals in four different events
Track and Field Records
- 1991: 100m at 9.86s
- 1983: 200m at 19.75s
- 1991: Long jump at 8.87m and 8.91m
- 1992: 4 × 100 m relay at 37.40s
- 1994: 4 × 200 m relay at 1:18.68min
- 1983: 3 on World Championships for 100m, 4x100m relay and long jump
- 1984: 4 on Olympic Games for 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump
- 1986: 1 on Goodwill Games for 4×100m relay
- 1987: 3 on World Championships for 100m, 4x100m relay and long jump and 2 on Pan American Games for 4x100m relay and long jump
- 1988: 2 on Olympic Games for 100m and long jump
- 1990: 1 on Goodwill Games for long jump
- 1991: 2 on World Championships for 100m and 4x100m relay
- 1992: 2 on Olympic Games for 4×100 m relay and long jump
- 1994: 1 on Goodwill Games for 4×100 m relay
- 1996: 1 on Olympic Games for long jump