He stands at the top of the runway, his warmup-jacket collar flipped up over his neck in the style of someone who wants very much to be different, which he does, and his expression saying Oh, it's up. Breeze must've caught it.
Around his neck is an orange headband—quite happy to be the only headband in the arena being worn around a neck—advertising the TV station he works for in Houston.
On his feet are a pair of long-jump shoes molded specially for him. That was his idea, too.
On the back of his custom-tailored warmup suit, in case you confused him with another jogger, is stitched his name. Oh, that's Carl Lewis.
July 17, 1984
He strips to his shorts and sleeveless T shirt, and now he seems a little more like the rest of them. But he's not. Even as he sprints down the long jump runway, he can hear the words the people around him are saying. He can take all the tension in the arena, all the feeling, and make it his. He becomes all he can be.
With his hands opened flat, in a manner unlike anyone else's, he accelerates faster than anyone on earth. A few millimeters from a strip of white Plasticine, he leaves the surface. All of him is in the jump, the soft side you see up around his eyes and the aggressive side you see in the definition of his muscles, all the intellect and all the emotion. He is whole.
He travels farther in the air than any one in the world, but as he dusts off the sand a voice inside already is telling him that this isn't the perfect jump. In the perfect jump, he's subject to no limits or laws. In the perfect jump, Lewis will not land.
In Japan last January, Lewis, his family and friends, harried by media and fans, decided to visit the ancient capital city of Kyoto to get away from it all. He went through his wardrobe and chose something that wouldn't make him appear quite so singular. "A big black cowboy hat, a big black cashmere coat and big black cowboy boots," recalls Don Coleman, a Nike representative and friend of Lewis's. "He looked like the king of kings."
In Kyoto, Lewis and his entourage stood before a majestic Shinto shrine. Around him, Japanese pressed their hands together and bowed, paying homage to something larger than they, while in a different way Lewis's friends and relatives did, too. They clicked their cameras, pointed their fingers and exclaimed.
"Every so often," says Coleman, "Carl would glance at something. No big deal. He's the only person I know who has been around the world five times and never taken a picture."
Lewis is a child who has climbed a tree and lost himself in the self-absorption of seeing how far out on a limb he can go. The long jump wasn't far enough, so he added the 100-meter dash and conquered that. That wasn't far enough, so he added the 4 X 100 relay and the 200, and lived with the nagging thought that 48 years ago a man had won gold medals in all four of those events. He planned to become a sportscaster after the Olympics, but there were so many other athletes doing that it began to seem common, so he added acting and singing.
The more he added, the more original he seemed, the more people gathered at the bottom of the tree to watch. All of them once had wanted to go to the end of the limb, too, but most had grown frightened and turned back to hug the trunk. Now, in August 1984, at age 23, Lewis will glance down and notice the whole world watching him. He will smile a distant smile. "They think if I don't win four gold medals I'll be a bum," he says. "But failure doesn't loom in me. I could lose and still get so much publicity I could do whatever I want. The headlines could say 'Lewis Chokes' in August, and I'll still be making a movie in the fall. I'd be rich, and I'd be beating people, even without track, because I don't put limits on myself."
Four gold medals, a gold record, a golden Oscar—none would be an end in itself for him. Each would merely give the child in the tree a surer grip, more control, to assure him he could move a few more feet out on the limb—out to the frail, lonely end, where the wind whips and only the true original clings.
In the first 23 years of his life, no person or event has convinced Lewis he can't cling there. "I'm not vulnerable to anything," says the child on the limb.
When Carl was 8, playing Pony League, he happened to find himself in centerfield with a fly ball. His father's eyes followed the arc of the ball and then shifted to his son. His son was busy picking daisies. When the ball stopped rolling, Carl picked that, too. He didn't play baseball much longer.
He wandered over to a football field one day and watched his cousin's Pop Warner team practice. There were 22 boys on the field, each carrying out a role assigned to him by someone else. The ground was too hard and cold for daisies, and he saw a boy fall heavily on it. "Be tough!" he heard the coach holler when the boy lingered on the ground. "Get up! Be a man!" Carl didn't want to play a sport in which he couldn't be whoever he was, and he wandered away.
He seriously played one team sport—soccer. The field seemed large enough, the movements unregulated enough, for him to join and still be Carl Lewis. He had played well on the Willingboro, NJ. PAL youth team, and he expected to play for the varsity during his sophomore year at Kennedy High. But the coach, a professional player in the summer, looked over Lewis's scrawny torso and chair-leg calves. He decided a year on the jayvee would help.
The Lewises aren't a jayvee kind of family. Mackie, seven years older than Carl, had held the county record in the 220. Cleve, five years older, had been an all-state soccer player in high school and All-New England at Brandeis University. He would be a first-round draft choice of the Cosmos in 1978. Carol, two years younger than Carl, already was breaking age-group records in the long jump. His mother, Evelyn, had been the first in a poor, rural Alabama family to leave the fields for college and had gone on to hurdle in the 1951 Pan American Games. His father, Bill, had left Chicago against his own father's wishes to attend Tuskegee Institute, where he'd been captain of the football team and a half-miler. Or at least he had been until the day he'd told the track coach his back hurt, and the coach had said, "Oh, you think because you're so good in football that you don't have to work at track?" and Bill had taken off his uniform and placed it in the man's hands.
In the Lewis genes, talent and independence are lifetime cellmates. "I believe in controlling your own destiny," says Bill, who coaches girls' track at Kennedy High. "I'm not going to obey just because I was told to. To hell with that. You change the whole concept or you don't get the hell involved. I don't even want to get into what they did to Carl with that damned soccer."
Carl skipped a few jayvee practices, showed up late for a few others and when the ball was on the other side of the field didn't make a show of looking busy. Still, he led the team in scoring with 15 goals and 10 assists, and when the jayvee season ended, the varsity coach invited him to move up for the last few games.
The thing Carl had wanted so much, he didn't want anymore: Someone else had decided when he could have it. He didn't attend his first varsity practice and was called aside the next day by the coach.
"You complain all year, and then you get the chance and don't show up," he snapped.
"Forget it," said Lewis. "I won't play next year, or the year after that."
His parents agreed he'd been wronged, and they supported him. They aren't the kind of people to tell their children they must learn to bend to authority simply because it's authority. "We don't take that crap," says Cleve. "We're very close, and we don't like outside influence, and we don't like control."
"My mom and dad could be vicious when somebody treated us wrong," says Carol.
Carol, though younger than Carl, blossomed physically much earlier. Her brother was a shy, short, slight child who burned when she called him Shorty and would run upstairs to measure himself against the edge of his bedroom door. The softness of his face made him look even younger than his body did. Many of his early years were spent traveling across town to attend the school where his father taught, so that when he came home all the boys in his neighborhood already were at the park playing games. Some days, he'd try to join them. "Everybody else would be picked first, then it would be, 'O.K., you got Carl' " recalls Thomas Mayfield, a friend then and now. "He looked so awkward playing basketball, and whenever he got picked last, he usually wouldn't try."
"I was the ugly duckling," Lewis says. "Everybody in my family showed more potential than me."
Usually, he just stayed home and played with Carol. "It may explain why I didn't have to develop the macho side a lot of boys did, and why Carol gained more masculinity," he says. "My dad was a very strong personality, but if I was playing with a doll when I was young, he wasn't the type to take it away and say, 'Be a man.' Our parents let us be ourselves."
He never developed the masculine crust that other males, especially athletes, feel they need to define themselves in their adolescence. He didn't curse. He could press his hands together and say, "Isn't that cute?" without feeling self-conscious. "He didn't develop the muscular armor most athletes have—you can see that in his face," Warren Robertson, his acting teacher, says. "He didn't feel the need to block his emotions. That's why he's able now to transfer emotion directly into physical performance. I've seen him do the same thing with acting. He has that balance of the emotional and the physical, the soft side and the hard side, and he's able to focus all of it without any blocks or stress."
Lewis was brought up in a suburban, middle-class, racially mixed environment and was taught by his parents that he had no limits. Cleve loved soccer and Pelé, so they sent him off to São Paulo on an exchange student program. Mackie went to Munich to pursue his language studies. Evelyn took Carl to plays and musicals and creative dancing classes, to swimming, roller-skating, cello and piano lessons. Carol was a diver, a gymnast and played six instruments. She and Carl were among the youngest members of the District Elementary Orchestra; Carl would later quit the cello when he had to take lessons in a structured high school classroom situation. At 8, he was competing in track on the town club his parents coached. At 10, his parents sent him to airline ticket counters to check his luggage and get his boarding pass alone. At 14, he was competing in track meets in California, sometimes using money his mom had borrowed from Cleve. Strong personalities lived in his house, and strong opinions were served at his dinner table. He had to learn to think fast, and move fast, to keep up.
"I was always totally different from kids my age," Lewis said. "I was born two years old. I was always planning what I wanted to have achieved two years down the road. People were always telling me I wouldn't be anything, and I hated that. The surest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can't do it."
He and Carol would invite eight or nine children to the house and conduct grand track meets all their own. Carl was meet director of the "Championships of America," in charge of writing out the schedule of events, calling competitors to the starting line through his parents' bullhorn and even writing news releases to extol the winners. One end of the lawn to the other became the 100. Once around the house became the 440. A pole laid across two lawn chairs became the high jump. The joy of the long jump was discovered by leaping onto castles Carl and Carol had constructed in the sand where the backyard patio was to be built. They cut medals out of construction paper and awarded them to the winners, then grew bolder and raided the box of medals their parents kept in the attic for the town club meets.
Carl hurdled and ran sprints, but he particularly loved the long jump. Not many other children bothered with it—some were afraid to hurl themselves into the air—and it made him feel special. Although he still wasn't big or strong enough to win all the time, with his parents' help his technique became excellent. Once, during his freshman year, his father, running on the other side of a fence near the high school track, went the entire length of a hurdles race with his son, exhorting Carl as he puffed and won. His parents' love for him was strong in victory and defeat, and that affection would steady him years later, allow him to venture farther out on the limb without feeling isolated. Calmly, patiently, they would break down his technique and show him where his mistake had occurred. Losing never became the specter it became for other, apparently more gifted, young athletes. It was something he came to believe he could control.
His sophomore year, running anchor on a 4 X 110 hurdle relay team, he was presented the baton and a 40-yard lead. Defeat wasn't possible. His foot caught one hurdle, then another. He stopped hurdling and began running and jumping. Somehow he lost, and his horrified teammates told him he would never run on their relay team again. "The event had been switched to the grass, and I had the wrong spikes on," he says. "Why should I have been embarrassed? I knew why I'd lost." And when he convinced himself of the truth of his analysis, the memory lost all its terror.
Suddenly—finally—his body began to grow. In less than two months of his 15th year he shot up 2½ inches, stretching his ligaments so much he had to walk on crutches for three weeks. His chest and leg muscles began to thicken. In a year, his time in the 100-yard dash plummeted from 10.6 to 9.3, just the way he had charted it on his bulletin board. He long-jumped 25 feet, the number he had stitched to the sleeve of his jacket. With a sense of relief, rather than surprise, he felt his life coming more under his control. He began to dominate.
He had transferred for his junior year to Willingboro High, where his mother taught gym and coached the girls' track team. His feuds with authoritarians didn't cease: How could he be an original if his activities had to be authorized? "A healthy rebel," his acting teacher would later call him, but that was not how Jack Mulder, assistant track coach and director of the Leaders Club—a group of athletes who prepared the gymnasium for classes and events—felt in 1978. "Carl changed late in his senior year, when he realized how much ability he had, but before that he was spoiled," says Mulder. "He didn't think he had to follow rules—he'd be late or let others do the work. I was constantly on him. He'd shrug and say, 'I don't have to listen to you."
Mulder tried to kick Lewis out of the Leaders Club, but Lewis's mother, the phys ed department chairwoman, fought for him, and the club voted to give him a second chance. In track practice, if his muscles felt loose after 10 minutes of stretching exercises when the coach had called for 20, he did the last 10 nonchalantly or not at all. He refused to do distance work to train for the sprints. He'd spent his childhood devouring magazine articles and his parents' instructions on training, and he wouldn't accede to methods he felt were wrong.
The sprinters' coach at Willingboro was Patsy Marino, a former football player brought up to believe that democracy died with the donning of a jockstrap. The collision was inevitable. One day Lewis and several teammates walked out of a meeting; Lewis considered quitting but returned. Another day, Marino's bellow stopped the shotputters in midgrunt: "I am the coach, Carl! I . . . am . . . the coach!"
"I learned something from Carl," Marino would say six years later. "I learned to deal with individuals and that some individuals prepare their own way. I realized later Carl knew what he was doing. Frankly, he was out of my league."
A lot of people were beginning to feel that way. In 11th grade, a girl who had become infatuated with him began calling him at home, waiting at his locker, intersecting his path between classes. Carl's path had no place for intersections; he cut the relationship off. He spent his teenage years poised in a set of figurative starting blocks, aloof from the silliness and gossip and flirting around him, waiting for the moment adulthood and financial independence would unleash him. Of his two best friends, one, Scot Spencer, studied drama and music and architecture and sketched designs of the house Lewis pictured himself living in one day soon. "His taste was classic, not trendy, like most other kids," says Spencer. "He wanted his windows placed so not everybody could see in." The other friend, Mayfield, sketched designs of the clothes they would wear and the cars they would drive. Three or four nights a week, the three drove to the mall and spent the evening selecting the things they would invite onto their shelves and walls once the world became theirs. "My peer group never affected me," says Lewis. "I affected them. I weeded out the ones that didn't want to be independent, and the ones that did came with me. I never got involved with drugs or drinking. I have no time for people that dawdle. My objective is not to adjust to others."
"None of us," muses Bill Lewis, "ever had a helluva lot of close friends."
"You'll notice," adds Cleve, "that none of us children is married."
By his senior year, Lewis's improvement on the track had become dramatic. He beat Steve Williams, the premier American sprinter he had always pretended to be in his backyard meets, in Philadelphia. He long-jumped 25'9" and then 26'6" and qualified for the Pan Am Games, where his 26'8", still a national prep record, would bring him a bronze medal.
At a banquet in West Collingswood, N.J. he was called to the microphone to receive the Long Jumper of the Year award. "Thank you very much," he tried to say, but all his life had been spent avoiding the crowd, not addressing it. His ears burned, his voice and hands shook. The words lodged in his throat. This was that feeling he couldn't live with, the one he felt when he was picked last in basketball, of not being in control.
"That's not the Lewises," said Cleve. "You don't go, 'Um . . . uh.' If you're going to be an Olympic champion, you don't just become an Olympic champion, you win the gold and get on the Wheaties box. Everything in our family has a master plan."
Carl went home and made plans. He would go to the University of Houston, not local track power Villanova, so he could become more independent. He would major in radio and TV so he could use track as a springboard to another career. He would take a speech class every semester so he could address large groups of people. Planning it out made the uneasiness go away, made him feel in control again.
And Lewis found one other way to prepare. He'd be in his driveway, listening to music on the car radio with friends, or strolling through the mall, and Mayfield would suddenly shout, "Picture!" Lewis would halt, compose his face and project for all the cameras he foresaw lining his path.
He could never shake again if he planned to climb out on the limb.
The white BMW 735i Turbo sits in a parking lot next to the University of Houston track stadium, music pumping through the partly open window. Just outside it, in creased tan slacks and a two-toned brown vest that's sleeveless and slightly puffed at the shoulders like something an alien might wear on Star Trek, stands Lewis. Today is one of his three days a week to be a TV sportscaster. He's dressed down for it—in the audience at the Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles a week earlier, he had worn a black tuxedo, with a cummerbund, tie and cowboy boots made of burgundy lizard skin.
His arms and legs move with the music, but his hand rakes through a small unzipped bag. "Where's my eyebrow pencil?" he asks.
He finds it and applies it, peering into the car window at a face that feels a razor blade only once a week. "I never wear a mustache during the season," he confides. "I like how I look on camera better without one." He reaches back into the bag, pulls out a stick of orange gloss and runs a lap around his lips. Then he grabs a powder pad and pats it on his cheeks. "I'm a notorious shiner on camera," he says. He glances at his face one more time, then at his typewritten notes, then at his watch. He's prepared, but where are they?
For crying out loud, he told Houston track and field coach Tom Tellez and one of his hurdlers to be here at 2 p.m. so he could interview them for Houston station KTRK, and it's 10 of 2 already. "I'll kill 'em," says Lewis.
He combs his hair and then rubs his palms lightly over the sides to inspect his work. He stares at the Houston track office, a good 60-second walk away. He reaches into the BMW, pulls out his telephone and dials the track office number. "Have Coach Tellez come out the second he comes in," he says.
Tellez appears a moment later, and Lewis polishes off the interview. He returns to the car to change for practice, but the only warmup pants he can find are pink. "If I wanted to run out in front of 15,000 people with pink tights on, I would," he says. "I do what I want to do in front of people."
But today isn't a pink day, and he's pleased when Carol drives up and gives him another pair. He sits in his car and changes. "I step into the car as a newsman," he calls out the window, "and step out as an athlete."
Those who consider him the world's greatest athlete might be startled at how little it takes, physically, to be that. Five days of practice a week, two hours a day, 45 minutes of bona fide work, an hour and 15 minutes of bona fide play. Weekends off. He lifts weights rarely, because he doesn't like to. Goethe says, "It is not doing the things we like to do, but liking the things we have to do, that makes life blessed." Lewis says the hell with that.
"Practice," he says, "is a social event. It's better to underwork than overwork. That's why I haven't gotten injured. People don't know how to listen to their bodies."
He begins to jog around the track. His thigh bones are unnaturally long, but the 8½-foot stride they create is so powerful and fluid they make 10 billion other thigh bones in the world seem mistaken. It's a joy to watch him run, a small happiness just to see him walk. "When you watch him go by," says Ahmad Rashad, who covered the track and field world championships in Helsinki for NBC last August, "you can hardly stop yourself from going, 'Wooo-eeeee!"
His 19.75 in the 200 in Indianapolis, at the 1983 national championships, with his arms raised the last 10 meters, was three-100ths of a second off the world record. Regrets about the early celebration costing him the record? "I can set the record another day if I want to," he says. His unmeasured and unofficial 30'2" jump at the '82 Sports Festival was disallowed when one judge—and no one else—saw him foul. His 9.97 in the 100 is the second-fastest ever at sea level and four-100ths off the world record. His 8.9 split in the 4 X 100 relay at Helsinki is comparable to Bob Hayes's anchor at Tokyo in 1964.
In today's workout, he's practicing starts, a problem for him because of his 6'2" height. He commences by discussing how much Chevy Blazers cost, how much Carol's new jeans will shrink in the wash and how much money she should put into CDs. His humor, sharp and sarcastic, zings constantly. His antennae are constantly receiving, even as he coils into the blocks. "Doesn't Linda's hair look nice?" he says of a Houston athlete jogging by. "Did you know Brent Musburger is on the air an average of 280 hours a year?"
"He's always got to be one up on everybody," Cleve says later. "I worked for Dun and Bradstreet, and he'd try to tell me stuff about finances."
He seems terribly sophisticated for his age, but there is an exuberance about him, a joyful knowledge of what he's capable of, that makes him good company. Now he's demonstrating to another Houston runner how to explode from the blocks. He's a student of all phases of his sport and enjoys stopping by the school grounds back in Willingboro to instruct the kids. "Come up like this," he says. "Bang! Zoom!"
"Bang-zoom?" mimics Carol.
"Take five, Carol—go eat something," he shouts back.
He puts his arm around Tellez's shoulders and goes off with him to critique a hurdler's technique. "You get the feeling he's not working hard or paying attention to you," Tellez says later. "But the next time he tries it, he does everything you've said. He works short and intelligently. When he says he's finished, that's it. You can't tell him anything. Anybody could have trouble with Carl if he doesn't understand him. Ours is not a coach-athlete relationship. It's two people looking at each other eye-to-eye. He's like a computer. If you give him the right input, he interprets it correctly. If you don't, he balks."
The instinct that sent Lewis to Tellez, a dignified, silver-haired gentleman who schooled Dwight Stones in the high jump and Willie Banks in the triple jump, was pinpoint. At competitions Tellez steps forward to suggest a few adjustments and then quietly rejoins the scenery. He may be the only man in the country with a track knowledge sharp enough and an ego secure enough to properly train Lewis. Their theories on preparing for the sprints and long jump coincide: Substance flows from style, content from form. Making the motion look correct is more important than how fast or how far or how often. Like mechanics at Indy, they break down and fine-tune every mechanism in the machine.
It's the antithesis of the approach taken by Bob Beamon, who, like the first man to see lightning, buried his head in his hands and knees after he leaped a world-record 29'2½" in 1968. "Whatever came that day, came naturally, because it suited my feeling and timing," says Beamon, who never jumped 29—or even 28—feet again. "I didn't get scientifically involved. It would have spoiled the mystery if I had repeated it."
Lewis loathes mystery. The day he sails farther, he must know every element that created the jump, he must know how to duplicate it, he must feel he controlled it—or it won't be a triumph. In the long jump, as in life, Lewis must happen to it—he cannot let it happen to him.
His approach begins 171 feet behind the takeoff board and requires 23 strides, a longer approach than that of his rivals, to fully exploit his speed. The arc of his jump isn't as high as theirs. He runs right into his jump, instead of trying to launch upward, for Tellez believes that vertical distance subtracts from horizontal. In the air, Lewis performs a double-hitch kick, windmilling his arms and pedaling his legs for balance, and those 1.4 airborne seconds are unlike any others in his waking hours. He doesn't think. He lets go.
A similar paradox helps explain his success in the sprints: Lewis is so completely in control he's able to let go of himself. In the last 50 meters, when his rivals' muscles begin to bind, Lewis remains relaxed. So total is his relaxation while running, he says, he makes sure he goes to the bathroom before each race.
His training session nearly over now, he loads himself into the starting block next to two other runners. His eyes are on the track, but his antennae pick up a cameraman drifting away from Carol, who's being taped for a segment on PM Magazine, and beginning to take footage of Carl. Immediately Lewis stands up and announces, "I'll watch you two this time," leaving the cameraman an empty starting block to shoot. Nobody is going to cruise by the takeout window and get a free piece of Carl Lewis.
Every request for a photo session or interview must be prearranged through Lewis's manager, Joe Douglas. Beginning in early '84, interviews occurred only by telephone every other Wednesday or after meets. Since May, Lewis has turned down all requests for interviews or photo sessions. Before that, photographers were required to sign a typewritten statement attesting that they wouldn't sell the pictures taken for non-journalistic use. Many refused to sign, having never heard of an athlete demanding that before.
Already, C.L. Productions has threatened lawsuits or otherwise protested against an assortment of companies that have marketed unauthorized products—a Lewis poster, a calendar, a book and cassette package and a photo advertisement for a book—as well as against a group in Italy planning a Lewis documentary. "I don't want to be diluted," says Lewis.
The packaging and selling of Lewis, like most other segments of his life, have been methodically planned. In March he confided to a few friends that he'd chosen the May 13 Pepsi Invitational in L.A. as the event at which he would try to break Beamon's world record. He failed by 7½ inches, which undoubtedly came as a great surprise. As far back as 1981, he and Douglas, the coach of the Santa Monica Track Club, which Lewis has represented since he left the University of Houston, had outlined a four-year, six-point plan:
• Accept virtually every appearance offer in Los Angeles or New York for maximum media attention.
• Transcend track and field and gain access to a diversity of Americans through stories in magazines such as Esquire, Newsweek, GQ and Ebony, and on TV shows such as ABC's Night-line. Douglas: "We want to be loved by all."
• Limit participation in meets to ensure that Lewis would be well-rested and prepared for each.
• Limit endorsements and wait until after the Olympics to bag the big one. Douglas: "We want Carl to be identified with one major company, the way O.J. Simpson is with Hertz or Bob Hope is with Texaco."
• Prepare for the post-Olympic stampede by continuing communications studies at Houston, taking acting lessons and, if possible, working part-time for a local network affiliate. Lewis: "Mark Spitz and Bruce Jenner were not prepared. How can you train 15 years toward becoming the best athlete in your event and not one minute toward becoming an actor or singer and expect to do well?" Lewis has rejected offers to play Jesse Owens in a made-for-television movie and a private detective in a weekly TV series. "I'm willing to wait for the so-called big bucks," he says. "If I do a TV series I want to be the star, and I want a big say in what's written."
• Emote openly to the public after major track achievements. Douglas: "I never told him to show an emotion he didn't feel, but if he was going to gesture, to do it large enough so everyone could see."
The results have been staggering. The American appetite doubly whetted by the eight-year absence of its athletes from the Summer Games and the staging of the Olympics in Los Angeles, he's a man who has intersected with a moment. Douglas receives 10 to 25 calls a day requesting that Lewis do interviews, endorsements, albums, movies, television and personal appearances. Last fall, trying to put an end to his commercial personal appearances, they raised his fee to $5,000. It was paid. Douglas promptly raised it to $10,000. "We were going to raise it to $25,000, but we were afraid they'd pay that, too, so we just stopped altogether," Douglas says. "Everyone identifies with him. When he goes to Japan, he's Oriental. He's not black, he's not white, he's Carl Lewis.
"I asked a few people for advice [on managing Lewis's afairs], but no one could really help me. No one's ever had a Carl Lewis going into the Olympic Games. We're on the frontier."
At dinner after that day's workout, a child asks Lewis for an autograph. He responds graciously, then rolls his eyes and says how difficult it is to appear in public anymore without getting recognized.
"You know, it might not be so bad," suggests a tablemate, nodding toward Lewis's clothing, "if you didn't wear a silver jacket with your name in black letters across the back."
Ladies and gentlemen, with one jump remaining, Carl Lewis is in second place."
The words boomed over the P.A. system in Madison Square Garden, on a Friday night late last January, and the crowd fell silent. Lewis hadn't lost in the long jump in nearly three years. Larry Myricks, who had beaten him two of four times in '81 and then watched Lewis shoot past him, had just taken the lead with a leap of 27'6", and Lewis had burned as he watched long jumper Jason Grimes rush to congratulate him. He knew how badly many athletes in the arena wanted to see him fail.
Lewis likes to say he competes against no one but himself, that no other athlete, no outside pressure, can dictate his performance. But let him, just for a moment, get behind. . . .
He stood at the head of the runway, brooding, licking his lips, buried inside himself and yet at the same time drawing all the energy and emotion from the air. With his sister bracing a section of runway board with her feet, he flowed down the runway, left the floor about a millimeter from the Plasticine and thrashed through the air for a world indoor record of 28'10¼". He leaped onto the track in celebration and nearly got trampled by a group of runners in an 800-meter race.
A similar thing happened during his studies at the Warren Robertson Theatre Workshop in Manhattan. For three weeks he rehearsed the part of Gale Sayers in a scene from Brian's Song, and then when Robertson invited 50 people, including Lewis's mother, and turned on the camera, Lewis did it twice as well as he'd ever done it in class. "Every detail I had suggested to him in three weeks—things that seasoned actors, through nervousness and ego, forget instantly—he remembered and applied under pressure," says Robertson, who is Douglas's cousin and has coached Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and James Earl Jones. "I couldn't believe anyone who had never acted could be that focused. He's got a honing instinct that eliminates all excess and waste and goes straight to the essence.
"He touches an audience for the same reason Travolta does: that balance between the aggressive side and the receptive, sensitive side. It fulfills the need for both that we have as an audience. Carl may not think he's vulnerable, but you can feel a sensitive side in his presence.
"There's a containment about him. He commits everything he's been containing into the act. He could become the first great actor who was an athlete, because he's secure enough to risk."
He must risk. He must wait sometimes until the last jump to uncork the record beater; he must heighten the Olympic pressure by huckstering; he must weave through interstate traffic, blinking high beams on dawdlers. The easier it comes to the child on the limb, the more he must chance—Look, one foot!—the more he must tickle dozing fate to make sure he controls her. How could he be distinct if each step were predictable?
They must be controlled risks, of course. The BMW has a Fuzzbuster to warn him of police radar. His speedometer was broken the night he raced Cleve 270 miles between Fort Worth and Houston; at 125 mph, Cleve was leaning out the window of his Porsche, screaming out the numbers to his brother. They chopped more than two hours off a five-hour trip.
One night the BMW hit a slick patch and went out of control, spinning 360 degrees. In the passenger seat, Mayfield was terrified. Lewis laughed—wasn't that turn of fate under his grip, too? "Don't worry," he said. "I had it all under control." Laughing made him feel better, the same way writing out the number of hours of sleep and work and relaxation he would get in the next week soothed him the day after he lost two indoor sprints in San Diego last February.
Midway through his junior year, 1981-82 at the University of Houston, after the teacher couldn't find a history final exam he says he turned in, he became scholastically ineligible. The athletic director called Lewis in and told him he could compete the following track season, but that his number of interviews and invitational meets and missed classes must be sharply curtailed.
Less than two weeks earlier, Lewis had set the world indoor record in the long jump. He had gained more power, and he was going to use it. "I said, 'No, you had control over me and told me I wouldn't be eligible," he says. " 'Now I'll control you. I'll tell you I'm not going to be eligible.'
"You can't control your life on the college level," says Lewis, who has a little more than two semesters of study left to gain a degree and plans to get it. "My main goal is to control. It makes me feel comfortable. I'm aggressive right now. My mind is going 100 miles an hour. I'd rather go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show [in which the audience participates] than sit through a movie. I do what I want to do now, not what I have to do."
He waited until 1981, just after he'd won two events in a major meet for the first time, and returned to the soccer coach in Willingboro who had said he'd never be a good athlete, and to the math teacher who had said he'd never make it into college, just to tell them, "You see . . . "
Each accomplishment gives him a surer grip on this pistol he has found in his hand, this .44 caliber talent, and now he seems compelled to discover its wallop.
Backtrack to the 1982 Millrose Games. In the New York Statler Hotel lobby, Don Coleman is busy making connections with athletes who have Nike contracts. Enter Lewis.
"Don, I'm hungry."
"Carl, I have other things to do right now. Can you wait?"
"But I'm hungry."
Coleman sighs, drops his work and leaves with Nike's hottest property.
"You're so spoiled," he says outside.
"I know," says Lewis.
"He does it," Coleman says, "because he knows he can get away with it. You get so ticked off at him, and then you get around him and you forget you're ticked off because he's such a great guy."
On the track circuit, very few athletes get near enough to be won by his charm. They see this feature attraction in flashy clothes get out of a limo, stroll past them in hotel lobbies, disappear into his room for the weekend and then pop out to leap 28 feet and have a two-hour chat with the national media. His remoteness discomforts them the same way a cat's does.
Myricks: "Trying to know Carl Lewis is like trying to know Michael Jackson. You can't. He lives in a different world. He's brought all the rumors on himself. He's a hot dog."
Ernie Gregoire, Myricks' coach: "Very few can mingle and beat your brains out."
Dwight Stones: "A lot of the athletes are jealous. But I did the same thing as Carl. I got tired of having to jump by myself from 7'2" up to the world record, so I'd make outrageous statements to create more pressure, more energy. But I'd hate to be in a position of getting three golds and a silver and still be considered a failure."
Willie Banks: "If he wants to cut off people, cut off the press—don't do it to your buddies. He's got to give of himself. Even if he wins four gold medals, it's going to be a bittersweet victory. No one on the track will appreciate it."
Carol: "Carl and I are going to make it and be rich, and people will always be talking about us, just like they did back in New Jersey. People aren't what they wish they were—and we are."
Lewis: "I must be sooo spectacular for people to say the things they do about me. Two sprinters said I competed in only three meets in Europe last summer because I was taking gorilla hormones and had developed a fist-sized cyst. They're trippin'—they're up in the stratosphere. I've won 35 in a row [through the Olympic trials] in the long jump, and I know it's driving them up a wall. A majority of the athletes criticize me. Some of them talk about me like I'm a dog. They say I take steroids. [An Oslo writer reported last summer that a Lewis drug test taken during the world championships was positive; a member of the drug-testing board denied it.] If I had it in my mind I needed steroids, I'd take them and tell everybody where they could go. But I wouldn't take them, because subconsciously I would back off on working on my technique. I wouldn't think it was as important. There's another reason, and it's the same reason I don't jump at high altitude: It would taint my records. A lot of all this is jealousy. It hurts the other athletes that I'm getting so much press."
His postmeet media performances are astonishing. Seconds after his second sprint loss of the evening in San Diego, his body weakened by between-race diarrhea, a TV sports-caster and a cameraman rushed up to him. He turned on the animation as if he'd been jump-started. In New York, after a meet, he answered questions with as much verve and intelligence the seventh time he was asked them as he had the first. A Ugandan reporter interrupted five times, asking if Lewis would pose with him for a picture, and Lewis said, "Yes, as soon as I'm finished here," with equal courtesy each time, all the while signing 10 different programs for the reporter without a lift of his eyebrows.
"People pay to see you; they want to know how you feel," said Lewis. "Edwin Moses called me a showboat. He shocked me. His agent and he asked me and Joe Douglas how I arranged things, because I was so popular, and two weeks later he rips me. I guess that's one way to get popular: Knock me down so he can climb up. A few years ago, he said, 'I don't consider the U.S. to be where my fans are. People in America don't follow track and field.' Hey, if you don't like to compete in front of your own people, the heck with you. Live over there. Then I see him change and start going up into the stands at American meets, signing autographs. I said to myself, I guess the Olympics are coming up.' Screw you.
"They say that I've changed, that I was more open and asked more questions when I was 17. Then, after I learned what I wanted to learn, that was it. I became myself.
"They say I'm a coke freak, that I'm a homosexual. They say it because no one knows what I'm doing. I don't even stay in the same hotel as the other athletes anymore, because if I stand in a lobby with them there'll be 11 kids and six reporters and four photographers there. I could be sleeping with a horse for all they know. It's the same reason they say Michael Jackson's homosexual, because he keeps to himself. I'm not homosexual. If I was weak-minded, god, I'd be paranoid that I was being called that. But as long as I know what I am, it doesn't matter what people say.
"I don't go out and party with a bunch of women. Everyone in nightclubs is putting on a big front, and I don't need to front anybody. I don't have to have someone come home with me every night. My idea of a good night is to call a few friends, tell them, 'Hey, buy a steak, c'mon over, we'll get fat and watch a movie and sit in the Jacuzzi.' I love to shop. I'll go to the malls three days a week, look for clothes or knickknacks for the house. I collect china and crystal. There are too many variables with people—they're too iffy. I'm slightly basically a loner."
His life revolves around the Victorian-style house he bought, against his parents' wishes, in suburban Houston for $175,000 at age 20. French Renaissance artwork and samurai swords share the walls, and the dining room table is always set with china and crystal. Only a few of his more artistic trophies are on display; a gold medal from Helsinki lies in a bathroom drawer. Outside, his unusual—what else?—dog, a virgin-white Samoyed named Tasha, frolics in the yard.
Lewis is a true child of his age: six telephones, remote-control big-screen TV, an electronic minitranslator he bought for traveling, USA Today on the kitchen counter. He hasn't read a novel since high school English class—damned if he can remember its name. The bedroom lights work by whistle-switch, but sometimes it takes three or four seconds to find the whistle, so Lewis duplicates the noise with his lips and douses them himself. There's a computer, on which he calculates financial and scheduling data, that connects to the one in his manager's Santa Monica, Calif. home. In the leisure room, with a squadron of carpet fuzzballs in front of it to prove how often it gets played (and that the maid hasn't been in for two days) is a video game, Millipede. Lewis refuses to buy Pac-Man; Pac-Man is for everyman.
The select group of people he invites to this sanctum sometimes wonders if Lewis will ever be able to share it completely with anyone. "Fall in love?" says Cleve. "It won't happen to Carl. Nothing will happen to Carl he doesn't want to happen. He doesn't even have anyone he really unburdens all his feelings to. That would mean giving up control to someone else."
"He's plotting for the perfect wife," says Mayfield, "so he can have the perfect child, one that has a special talent. When Carl gets married, it'll be a strategic move."
"I can't even see him going steady," says Coleman.
A year ago, Lewis and a long jumper, Tudie McKnight, began to spend a lot of time together at weekend meets. He invited her to fly to Houston. After a week together she realized that for now, at least, they could be no more than very good friends.
"He's so unpredictable, so hyper, so hard to understand," she says. "It seems like he went from being a teenager to middle age and just skipped his college years. If he's hurt, he won't show it; he'll get up and walk out of the room. You can't crowd him; you have to let him be. The first part of the week, we were getting really close. Then suddenly I could feel him move away. One minute you think you've got him . . . "
She reached out and grabbed the air, then opened her empty palm and studied it.
" . . . and then—poof!—he's gone."
Three TV sportscasters, two cameramen, a radio reporter, a magazine photographer, a writer and the longest long jumper of all time stand on the Houston track waiting for Lewis.
"What time was he supposed to be here?" asks Tellez.
"That means 2:30."
At 2:50, Lewis arrives, gives Beamon a smile and a handshake and makes no reference at all to his lateness. Beamon is to interview Lewis for Cable News Network; Lewis is to interview Beamon for KTRK. That's how it works in the sports world these days.
Beamon wears blue warmups you could pick up at Penney's, a T shirt bearing a cartoon character whose tongue is hanging out and six or seven beads of sweat. Lewis wears gray running shoes, silver, skin-hugging elastic tights, gray-striped red briefs that show through the tights, a shiny silver jacket—unzipped halfway down his shirtless chest, collar flipped up, name across the back—along with a gold wrist chain, gold watch, neck chain and two gold rings, one of them diamond-studded . . . and no sweat at all.
"I didn't put on makeup today," he says. "I don't like to wear any when I'm in my sweats." That's how it works in the sports world these days, too.
Beamon, conducting his interview first, asks about the pressure that will hang over Lewis in the Olympics. "Pressure comes from uncertainty," Lewis says, "from not knowing what the variables will be. But all the variables will be eliminated. I'll stay away from the Olympic Village, in a house with my parents and sister, away from all the distractions. All I'll have to do is compete well, which I've always done."
At another point he says, "It's a mystery to you what will happen, but I know. Everything in the world could come down on my shoulders, and I wouldn't feel it. They said I couldn't win two events in one meet, and I did. They said I couldn't win three in one meet, and I did. I prove them wrong every time. I don't need anyone's support to do it. All I have to be is Carl Lewis.
"I could set a world record in the decathlon if I trained for two years. I could be an All-Pro in the NFL within three years—but I never would, because in football, the athlete controls nothing. If I get sick of all this entertainment crap, I'll go into business, and if not that, maybe politics. I'm not ruling out anything. It's all there if I want it."
When the interviews are over, he whooshes four 200s in 23 seconds apiece without trying or breathing hard. He jokes with a few friends, says goodby and steps into his BMW. He turns on the music and picks up the telephone to chat with someone a thousand miles away.
He pushes a button to open the window, lets the early evening spring air cool his face, and he takes great comfort in knowing he will never die.