Frederick Carlton Lewis may be the greatest athlete in track and field history.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama on July 1, 1961, he grew up in a family of athletes, as his mother was a hurdler on the 1951 Pan Am team, his sister was an Olympic long jumper and his father a track coach. The family moved to Willingboro Township, New Jersey where, as a high school senior, he rose to a #5 world ranking. He had many college scholarship offers upon graduation in 1979 and chose the University of Houston, where he worked under the tutelage of Tom Tellez, the only coach he would have throughout his long and distinguished career. He won the NCAA championship in the long jump in 1980 and also competed in sprinting events, drawing comparisons to the great Jesse Owens, who dominated sprint and long jump events in the 1930s. He qualified for the 1980 U.S Olympic team in long jump and 4 x 100 meter relay but did not participate due to the U.S. boycott of that year’s Moscow games. In 1981, he became the fastest 100 meter sprinter in the world, running the third-fastest time in history at the Southwest Conference championships in May. He won national titles in long jump and 100 meters in route to winning the Sullivan Award as top amateur athlete in the U.S. At the 1983 World Championships, he won gold medals in the 100, long jump and 4 x 100 relay and was named Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News for the second straight year.
He entered four events in the 1984 in an attempt to match the feat of Jesse Owens in the Summer Games of 1936, where he won gold medals in 100, 200, long jump and 4 x 100 relay. He achieved the sweep easily, setting Olympic records in two events. He was drafted with the 208th pick of the NBA draft and in the 12th round of the NFL draft in 1984 despite never playing either of those sports in high school. The 100 meter final in the 1988 Summer Olympics became one of the most infamous sports stories of the century, as Canada’s Ben Johnson set a new world record in 9.79 while Lewis set a new Amercian mark with 9.92. Three days later, Johnson tested positive for steroids, was stripped of his medal and Lewis was awarded gold and credited with a new Olympic record. He won the long jump, finished second in the 200 and the U.S. failed to qualify in the 4 x 100 relay after dropping the baton. He had the best meet of his life at the 1991 World Championships, where six men finished under 10 seconds in the 100 meters. Lewis won gold with a world record time of 9.86, anchored the relay team to another world record and set a world record of 29’,2 ¾” in the long jump that lasted one round until Mike Powell leaped 29’,4 ¼” to hand Lewis his first loss in a long jump competition in a decade. Powell’s jump and Lewis’ final two jumps from that competition remain the three longest low-altitude jumps of all time.
Lewis went on to win gold in the relay and long jump in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and won his fourth straight gold medal in the long jump in Atlanta in 1996.
In track & field, the benchmark for excellence for the 100 meters is 10 seconds and for the 200 meters it is 20 seconds. Over the course of his 17 year career, Lewis broke 10 seconds for the 100 on fifteen occasions and bettered 20 seconds in the 200 ten times. He did not lose in the long jump for a decade, winning 65 consecutive competitions and still holds the indoor long jump record he set in 1984. In all, he won 10 Olympic medals, including nine gold and 10 World Championships, including eight gold. He was named “World Athlete of the Century” by the IAAF, “Sportsman of the Century” by the IOC, “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and was three times named “Athlete of the Year” by Track & Field News. He is the only Olympian in history to successfully defend a gold medal in the long jump.
On this date in 1984, Carl Lewis won a gold medal in the long jump at the Summer Games in Los Angeles.