His drive, determination and success changed the world of track and field.
Carl Lewis’ success pushed track and field into the spotlight and changed it from a sport that mattered only once every four years to one that gained national attention sparked by Lewis’ speed and athleticism. But his time on top was not a quiet stay. BEYOND THE GLORY: CARL LEWIS takes a look at how a shy kid raised during the Civil Rights movement would push himself to nine Olympic gold medals and tremendous fame. The Emmy-nominated series continues Sun., Aug. 8 at 8:00 PM.
His name is now plastered all over Olympic history books, but growing up, it was another former Olympian’s records- Jesse Owens- who inspired Lewis to work hard and stay determined. Born in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights movement, his parents quickly realized that the climate in the South was not where they wanted to raise their children, so they headed north to New Jersey. As a kid, Lewis competed in his own personal track meets, running by himself around the house, making makeshift long jump pits and tracks.
All of those hours running around the house perfected his stride and opened a door for success. Coming out of high school, the top track and field universities pushed hard for his services. Lewis settled in at the University of Houston, where head coach Tom Tellez improved Lewis’ technique as much as he aided Lewis’ confidence. Lewis made his first Olympic team in 1980 – the year the U.S. boycotted the Games.
While his speed left competitors in his wake, his versatility and overall athleticism in the long jump led to his headlining meets in front of sellout crowds – garnering little or no compensation. Lewis quickly learned that amateur track and field events were actually a business and from then on out he began to push the envelope from a business standpoint: demanding more money, creating his own uniforms and his own style.
The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles were Lewis’ coming out party as he won four gold medals. But not everything was smiles. Lewis’ first jump in the long jump was good enough for the gold medal, and in an attempt to conserve his energy for two other events, he decided not to make any more jumps. For the first time in his life, fans booed him.
But he regained the fans love when he went on to win all four events and preserve his place in Olympics history. Lewis had made himself the poster boy for track and field, going on to win gold in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, appearing on magazine covers, television shows and watching his popularity soar.
As Lewis dominated his foes, he learned that the price of success isn’t always glory. With his rising popularity, detractors deemed him cocky and arrogant. The media accused him of drug use and performance enhancing drugs, while simultaneously proclaiming he had to win every race he entered to prove he wasn’t on the downside of his career. The pressure took him to near depression.
As always, Lewis fought back, capping his legendary career with a final gold in the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.
Those interviewed in addition to Carl Lewis include: mother Evelyn Lewis, sister Carol Lewis, brother William Lewis, Santa Monica Track Club coach Joe Douglas, University of Houston Coach Tom Tellez, former Olympian Ben Johnson, former teammates Michael Marsh, LaMont Smith and Johnny Grey.
Excerpts from show
Carl Lewis: “I was given an unbelievable God-given talent to run fast and jump far.”
Lewis: “The sport did not grow during the ’80’s and ’90’s. I grew. They just came along for the ride.”
Lewis (on the media): “They could stab me in the back, they could do what ever they want, but they couldn’t stop me from winning.”
Lewis: (on what he said in his first meeting with Houston coach Tom Tellez): “I said, ‘I want to be an Olympic champion and I want to be a millionaire and I don’t ever want to work a real job.’ He was kind of put aback, I’m seventeen-eighteen?and he said ‘Well, let’s get to work.’ So that was it. That was the beginning of everything.”
Lewis (on the 1984 Olympics): “I left there with four gold medals and I told everybody then, you can say what you want to say how I handled it and everything else but I won four gold medals and you can’t take that away.”
Evelyn Lewis: “There was a picture in the Track and Field News that said “Ralph Boston, King of the Long Jump.” Carl cut that out of the magazine, put that on the bulletin board, crossed out Ralph Boston’s name and put Carl Lewis.”
Joe Douglas: “My best highlights of Carl Lewis are what he did for the sport — changing it to a professional sport.”
Tom Tellez: “He is a great human being first and a great athlete second.”
Tellez: “The combination of being a great athlete and having the mind with it is what Carl’s all about.”
Original new episodes of BEYOND THE GLORY continue on Sept. 26 (Jim Brown), Oct. 3 (Greatest Games: 1988 World Series Game 1: A’s-Dodgers) and Oct. 17 (Priest Holmes).