Flying Far And Fast For A Fabulous Triple

Sprinter-long jumper Carl Lewis became the first three-way winner since 1886 at the U.S. track and field championships
June 26, 1983

Tom Tellez coaches Carl Lewis. "He's out of his head trying this," Tellez said last Friday of Lewis' aim of becoming the first man since 1886 to win the long jump and the two sprints—the 100 and 200 in yards then, meters now—in the national championships. "But I have to admit, he's done the work. He's ready."

Bill Lewis is father to Carl Lewis. "He's what I call a tactical thinker," Bill said in explaining why he wouldn't consider reminding his son of the possibility of injury during the four preliminary sprints, one qualifying jump and three finals Carl faced in the USA/Mobil Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis. "He plans things his own way, and there's nothing to do but respect that."

But the best judge of Carl Lewis is Carl Lewis. "I'm not so much moved by winning, especially winning things I've won before [he had won the 100 meter-long jump double the last two years], as I am by a new challenge," he said. "Adding the 200 is sure that."

He admitted, too, that one of the main reasons he had chosen to include the long sprint was that Jesse Owens had run the event. Owens won the 100, 200 and long jump and ran a leg on the winning 400-meter relay team in the 1936 Olympics. Could his reincarnation in the taller, stronger Lewis contemplate anything less?

Lewis began on Friday with the 100, winning his first-round heat in 10.32. Fifty minutes later he won his 200 heat in 20.70. "This is an unbelievably fast, a scary-fast track," he said of the Indiana stadium's wide, gentle turns and swift Mondo surface that has a sort of herringbone pattern pressed into it. "I'm nervous. It's neat. And there is some method to my madness. The 100 and long jump are my two major events. The 200 final is last, so I can fall apart in that and still make the team in my main things."

This national championship undoubtedly qualified top placers for more major summertime competitions than any in history. Do well and you could go to the U.S. vs. East Germany dual meet this week in Los Angeles, or the USOC National Sports Festival next week in Colorado Springs, or the World University Games July 1-11 in Edmonton, or the Pan American Games Aug. 14-29 in Caracas. But the team on which Lewis and everyone else coveted places was the one to the first-ever World Championships in Helsinki, Aug. 7-14. "That," said Lewis, "will be a better track meet than the Olympics."

It is a meet about 20 years overdue. There are plenty of invitationals and the World Cup, that oddity in which individual athletes represent whole continents, but outside of the Olympics, track has never had a true world championship. "The qualifying standards for Helsinki mean that only the top range of athletes will make it," said Lewis. "In the Olympics, countries can enter one athlete per event no matter how bad he is, so you have round after round of prelims to weed the bad ones out. And in Helsinki everything will be scheduled specifically for track, without all the frenzies and traffic jams of the Olympics. It's the first, so it's historic. It will be a great, great meet."

But it won't make anyone forget what Lewis did in Indianapolis. A couple of hours after his 200 heat, he took one long jump in the qualifying round. He touched down at 28'7¾", less than seven inches from Bob Beamon's once invulnerable world record of 29'2½". An aiding wind of 3.2 meters per second (2.00 mps is the legal limit) precluded any record possibility, but that didn't prevent half a stadiumful of imaginations from racing. "He's so close," one heard again and again in the coaches' section of the stands. "And we thought Beamon's record would last into the next century. I just wish Carl would stop fooling with the 200 and get on with what he does best...."

What Lewis did was pick up the shoes he uses for check marks along the runway, and trot serenely off to a good night's sleep.

The next day it seemed Indianapolis was intent on robbing him, as it did last year. This was, you will recall, the place where, in the 1982 Sports Festival, Lewis made a jump that some estimated to be 30 feet, only to have officials rule that even though he'd left no mark on the Plasticine that is used to detect a foul jump, his toe had broken the imaginary plane at the end of the board. Thus the sand was ordered swept before the jump could be measured. No such plane-breaking rule exists; the international and American rule books speak only of touching the ground beyond the end of the board. But the sand had been swept.

Last Saturday it wasn't officials invoking mythical rules that stymied Lewis, but the Indiana wind. He won his 100 semifinal, coming from behind Emmit King's rocket start to pass him 10 yards from the finish line in 10.15 against a .91-mps zephyr. The final, which took place an hour and a half later, was against a 2.37-mps breeze. Lewis, the tallest of the field at 6'2", and with the longest stride, was a sail compared to the cannonball of the 5'9" King, who led after yet another good start and a surge at 40 meters. Lewis didn't catch up to him until 80 meters and won by a scant 18 inches, 10.27 to 10.33. "The wind didn't affect my running mechanics, it just made us all slow," Lewis said. "Even Evelyn."

Evelyn, of course, was Evelyn Ashford, whose 100 moments before was a mirror of Lewis'. Chandra Cheeseborough started best, then on came Diane Williams, and finally there was Ashford shooting by in the last 15 meters to win in a slow 11.24. Her opposing wind was 2.72 mps.

"Horrible time," she said, "but the close finish ought to make the rest of the world, meaning East Germany, not feel so superior." She announced that she would run only in the 100 and the sprint relay against the G.D.R. this week. "I've planned on that 100 since I heard about a certain 10.81 [the world record run on June 8 by East Germany's Marlies Gohr]. Before Helsinki I want to see just how hot she is." But only in the 100. "The 200 is hard on my sciatic nerve. I'll run it here, but not again until Helsinki," Ashford said.

On Sunday she burned to a yard lead over Cheeseborough in the turn and won by that yard at the end, in 21.88, only a 20th of a second from her American record. Cheeseborough ran the fifth fastest 200 in history, at 21.99.

In the women's long jump, Lewis' sister, Carol, produced the best series ever by an American; all six of her jumps were of more than 22 feet, and she won with 22'8". "we Used to think if Carl jumped far in a meet, I'd jump crappy," she said.

No more. On Sunday afternoon, which arrived sultry and threatening, Carl prepared to take but one jump. "I wanted to win and then rest for the 200 semi and final," he said.

There was a delay while officials reversed the direction of the jumpers' run-up, to avoid a head wind. Tellez, Carol and the Lewis parents, Bill and Evelyn, trooped down to the other end of the runway with about 4,000 other spectators. The Lewises sat beside former long jump world-record holder Ralph Boston, who had been in Mexico City 15 years ago when Beamon soared so impossibly far. Indeed, Boston had helped Beamon to his feet after he had collapsed upon hearing what he had done.

Banks of photographers tensed when Lewis began to run. Four steps from the board, he was about eight inches past his check mark. "He had to shorten his last steps," said Tellez. "He got off the board well, but he'd lost a little momentum."

He flew high and slightly to the right, as is his habit, and hit the sand at 28'10¼". The wind was a legal 1.89 mps. It was the second-best jump of all time—and the best at low altitude. All the Lewis family was up and howling with the rest of the crowd. "It'll come by inches, one or two at a time," said Bill Lewis, assuming that Carl would stop now, that the world would have to keep being patient.

But Carl knew it hadn't been a technically perfect jump. He wanted one more. So he took it, after a long wait on the runway. "That jump looked better," said Tellez. "He adjusted his run, but he didn't have the wind." It was only .56 mps, and the distance was 28'7". At once Lewis turned his thoughts to the 200, passing the rest of his jumps.

Thunder rolled about the sky. Boston began to sing, "God didn't make little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis...."

Suddenly an Italian photographer appeared, trembling, before a startled Bill Lewis. "You must, you must get him to jump again," he pleaded.

"Why?"

"Because of the conditions. Do you know how much electrostatic power is in the air?"

The senior Lewis considered this. "He's over 21," he said, smiling.

"You get these conditions once in a lifetime," continued the man. "In Mexico City, after Beamon jumped, the sky opened. I was there."

"What can I tell him?" asked Bill.

"Tell him there is energy!" said the photographer.

"And he'll tell me to pound sand," said Bill.

So Carl lounged happily on the infield while the storm skirted the stadium. On Saturday night the 10,000-meter runners had not been so lucky; a downpour drenched them after 11 laps. Alberto Salazar, imagining himself back in the rain of his Eugene, Ore. home, charged around Craig Virgin off the last turn and won in 28:11.64. "This was the first time I've outkicked someone in seven years," he said, delighted. "It will probably be another seven before I do it again."

Event after event saw pitched battles. In the shotput, Dave Laut watched Brian Oldfield, Mike Lehmann and Kevin Akins rage and growl and spit. "That was the most intense shot competition I've ever seen," he said. "I think everybody went too crazy on his opener." Not Laut. He hit 71'2¾", which stood up for the win. Akins came closest with 70'7¼". Lehmann reached 69'8¾" and Oldfield 68'9¾".

In the 800, last year's 400-meter hurdle champion, David Patrick, just ran down David Mack, and Mack in turn just held off six-time national champion James Robinson, their times being 1:44.70, 1:44.78 and 1:44.79 respectively. "I hate the 800," moaned Patrick. "It scares me. I'm never comfortable. The intermediate hurdles, that's what I love."

And why not pursue the thing he loves? Patrick was painfully forthright: "Edwin Moses."

Besides Lewis, there were two un-pressed masters of their events. One was Mary Decker, and the other was Moses. He reached the last two hurdles with a two-meter lead, and, while the rest of the field disintegrated, rolled on to win the 400 by 12 meters in 47.84. "That old 800-meter training really works at the end," he said, sounding like he might go chase Patrick out of that event, too.

Decker doubled in the 1,500 and 3,000 because she wants to run the first against the East Germans and the second in Helsinki. In both she shed all pursuit by halfway and won unchallenged. The 1,500 was in 4:03.50; the 3,000, run but 55 minutes later, was 8:38.36.

After his pair of long jumps, Lewis rested on the infield grass for an hour, then got a rubdown and reported for the start of his 200-meter semi. Running in lane 5, he led a V of sprinters down the stretch and visibly eased, even clapping his hands twice before the line. The time, aided by a 2.08-mps wind, was 20.15. "After that I knew I had something in my legs," he said. He then watched Larry Myricks, who had finished fourth in the long jump, rip through the curve in the other semi and finish in 20.17, assisted only by a .88 breeze. "Then I knew it would take better than 20 seconds to win," said Lewis.

The final was 90 minutes later. "The way to run this wrong is to try to catch up in the stretch," he said. "I've been working on running that curve." He tore through this one to get the lead—and simply kept going. "I knew I'd won the thing 10 meters into the stretch, and I knew it would be fast because I'd run the turn so hard." None of which quite explains what he did with 50 meters to go, which was to break into a big grin and start looking around. He did it twice. "Yes, I looked," he said. "Before you put your hands up, it's always a good idea to check."

Naturally, 10 meters out, he put his hands up. "I was tired. I knew I had to stay relaxed. That was my way of showing the joy of what I do," he said.

It was, but the cost was clear. Lewis finished in the astounding time of 19.75, the second fastest ever, the fastest ever run at low altitude and an American record, breaking Tommie Smith's 19.83 set in the 1968 Olympic final. Lewis was only .03 from Pietro Mennea's world record of 19.72, also set in Mexico City, in 1979. Had he kept his arms at work through the line, unquestionably he would now hold his first world record.

Eventually he admitted this. "With my absence of experience at 200, though, I just couldn't be expected to know it was that fast," he said. "I regret having put up my hands...but regret isn't the right word. I'm .01 from the world record in the 100, I'm .03 from the world record in the 200, I'm four inches from the world record in the long jump, so there's terrific suspense. It's still fun to compete."

Lewis was besieged with questions about all the possible world records he had seemed to let flit away. "Some of the same people who said the triple was too hard are now saying that it looked too easy," said Lewis. "I feel I could have broken the long-jump record today, but it would have meant sacrificing the 200, so I guess I traded a world record for an American one. But the way I am, if I'd got the jump and then been whipped in the 200, I'd have been upset. It was more fun this way."

Later, asked what he would treasure the most among his memories of this weekend, he showed again the fundamental individuality that his father loves, and which perhaps explains how he manages his huge success. "I know what will stay with me," he said at once. "I ran a good turn."

TWO PHOTOSDespite a flawed approach, Lewis made the longest leap ever at low altitude, 28'10¼". TWO PHOTOSLewis, who took the lead late in the 100 (above), was ahead in the turn of the 200. PHOTOAshford was a blur in her 100-200 double. PHOTOSalazar splashed to a 10,000 win but only after finding that it do rain in Indianapolis.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)