WANT Original Content
Carl Lewis is considered by many to be the greatest track and field athlete of all-time, winning nine Olympic gold medals and eight World Championship golds, setting the 100-meter world record, and dominating the long jump event for more than a decade. Thirty years ago at the Los Angeles Olympics, he matched the accomplishment of the legendary Jesse Owens when he won four gold medals – the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4X100 meter relay — in the same Games. Since retiring from track and field, Carl has been an actor, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. Annika Le and Grace Masback of WANT caught up with him in his home in Houston, Texas as he was preparing to make a trip on behalf of IBM to Nigeria and Kenya:
WANT: Have you been watching the Sochi Winter Olympics? What are your impressions?
Lewis: Like most people, I like to watch the Olympics and I’ve been watching every day. What really gets me are the stories. I particularly liked the story of Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old American who won the slalom – I was really moved to see her parents in attendance at the Games and their emotions. I also really liked the ice dancing event.
WANT: What are your thoughts as you come up to the 30th anniversary of your Los Angeles Olympic success?
Lewis: My main thought is that I can’t believe that I am 53 years old and that the Los Angeles Games were 30 years ago – it’s a long way in the past. What’s interesting is that not a day goes by when someone doesn’t say something to me about my performance at those Games, so, in a way, my connection with Los Angeles has never stopped. My Olympic journey was a long one and I got to see the Olympics from different perspectives. In 1984, I was one of the youngest members of the Olympic team. In 1996, I was one of the oldest. I experienced the Olympics in three countries . . . the USA (Los Angeles, Atlanta), Spain (Barcelona), and Korea (Seoul), and each one was different. When I look back on it, I feel that what I accomplished is as good as life can be, with things that I never dreamed could happen. I’m thankful to have had the chance to experience what I’ve experienced.
WANT: How have the Olympics and sports changed since Los Angeles?
Lewis: All sports have become a lot more business oriented since that time – even the Olympics have tried to follow the trend to be more professional while maintaining the connections to its “amateur” origins. Sports organizations use television more to market their sport and promote their brand and to expand their business possibilities.
WANT: How did you manage to have such a long career – making your first Olympic team in 1980 as a teenager and winning the gold medal in 1996?
Lewis: More people should ask that question – it’s a good one. The secret to my success is that I focused on sport and let others around me worry about everything else. During my entire career, I had one coach, who I think was the best coach in the 20th century, one management team, and I trained at the same track at the University of Houston. My ability to focus on my sport performance is what let me succeed in the end.
WANT: What do you remember about your high school sports career?
Lewis: I loved the team aspect of high school sports. As a 10th grader, I was 5’5” tall and a soccer player who ran track in the Spring. I jumped 22 feet in the long jump and was pretty good in my area, but I wasn’t a big deal in New Jersey, where I lived, or the country. But, something about earning my varsity letter and getting a letter jacket really focused me and made me become more committed. When I got my letter jacket, I put the words “Long jump – 25 feet” on the jacket. I don’t know why I did this because the State record was 24’3”. Anyway, I started to grow and jumped 25’9” as a junior, setting the State record. By my senior year, I had grown to 6’3” and I jumped 26’8”, which was a national record. That was great, but what I really loved was that our high school managed to win the State Championship for the first time ever.
WANT: When you were in high school, what athletes or people did you look up to?
Lewis: I looked up to my parents, Jesse Owens, and Fran Tarkenton. My parents had both been track and field athletes and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and were my first coaches. I met Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when I was 13 and I wanted to be like him. Finally, I liked the Minnesota Vikings’ Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton. He was a little guy like I was but he always got the job done. That inspired me.
WANT: What advice do you have for aspiring high school athletes?
Lewis: First, you need to decide what you want to accomplish – do you want to just have fun or do you want to go somewhere in life? Then, you have to make good choices. You have to make sure you get good grades, so that you can go to college. And, you have to make sacrifices – sacrifices on one side mean you can find success on the other side. I remember that I missed my senior class trip so that I could go to a track meet, but at the meet I had a performance that allowed me launch my journey toward becoming one of the best in the world.
WANT: We’re launching a website for teens, by teens featuring news, sports, and entertainment – is this something you would have enjoyed as a high school kid?
Lewis: I would have liked it, but remember that times were different back then [laughing]. We had no internet and there were only three channels on TV. In fact, we didn’t have a remote control and as the youngest I was the one who was always sent over to the TV to change the channel! I think what your doing is very valuable for kids because it will give them a positive outlet – we had to go outside and invent and play games because we had no other choice. Kids today have the ability to just sit at home and play video games. WANT will give them other options.
WANT: Thank you.
Lewis: Send me the link to WANT – I want to follow it!
Photo source: http://www.jeffpearlman.com/goodbye-100/