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Carl Lewis sets sights on world record long jump

By Ross AtkinSports writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 29, 1982


Bob Beamon's 29 ft. 2 1/2-inch long jump was once thought to be the most untouchable record in track and field. Carl Lewis, though, is fast closing in on Beamon's mark and now considers 30 feet within reach.

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To prove the point, he practically sailed out of the pit here at the National Sports Festival with a jump of 28-9. That was 5 1/2 inches longer than Lewis had ever gone, the best ever on United States soil, and the second best in history.

Lewis, of course, arrived in Indianapolis with credentials in impeccable order. Several months ago, in fact, he had visited the same city to pick up the Sullivan Award as the country's finest amateur athlete.

In winning the nationwide voting for this annual honor, Lewis beat out an impressive array of contenders including wrestling champion Chris Campbell, sprinter Evelyn Ashford, figure skater Scott Hamilton, swimmer Mary T. Meagher, and diver Greg Louganis. Perhaps even more significantly, his selection ended a much-criticized drought of more than two decades since the last previous black recipient, Wilma Rudolph in 1961.

Lewis was a very popular choice for the award, and indeed, when you look at his record for 1981 it is difficult to see how the voters could have picked anyone else. The 21-year-old native of Willingboro, N.J. has not only established himself as the world's No. 1 long jumper, but is among the top sprinters - a true double threat in the mold of the late Jesse Owens, with whom he is frequently compared.

Representing the University of Houston last year, Lewis became the first person ever to win both a track and a field event at the NCAA indoor championships and the first since Owens to score such a double in the NCAA outdoor championships, then achieved a similar sweep in The Athletics Congress national championships. His best time in the 100 meters (10 seconds flat) is the best ever without the aid of high altitude; equals the third fastest in history anywhere; and is only 500th of a second slower than the world record set by Jim Hines at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

In view of all this, one can hardly help thinking of Owens, whom Lewis met once when he competed in a Jesse Owens youth meet as a 10-year-old. But Carl is his own man, as he indicated at the Sullivan Award ceremonies when asked his reaction to all the talk comparing him to the 1936 Olympic hero.

''It makes me feel good,'' he said, ''but I want to be remembered as the first Carl Lewis.''

As for a 30-foot long jump, well, that's not just a pipe dream. On his fourth of six jumps here, the 6 ft. 2 in. 180-pounder believes he soared 30 feet. But the board judge ruled he fouled, so his footprints were raked from the sand and the jump disallowed.

It was a very close call, so close that Lewis protested, only the second time he ever remembers questioning a foul. ''I didn't break the plasticene (the putty-like surface at the front of a takeoff board),'' he said. ''It was a judgment call on the official's part.''

Maybe it was all for the best. Maybe the drama should build a while, much as it did three decades ago as the world's milers crept up on the four-minute barrier finally broken by Roger Bannister.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, after all, might be the made-to-order showcase for a new world record and possibly even the unthinkable 30-foot jump. Millions would be watching an event often overlooked. And if Carl had his druthers, he would break Beamon's record in the United States at or near sea level.

In the US because he is an American who would prefer to share such a moment with his ''home people,'' and at a relatively low altitude so the record would need no qualifiers.

Beamon's mark, unfortunately, has always carried an asterisk much the way Roger Maris's 61-homer year does in baseball because the season had been lengthened since Babe Ruth's day. The long jump record was set at the 7,400 -foot altitude of Mexico City, which many people still feel accounts for the leap's freakish nature (it was almost two feet farther than anyone had jumped before, then for a decade or more no other jumper came anywhere near his figure). To be sure, there are those who argue convincingly that Beamon's jump should not have any stigma attached to it, because the lessened air resistance and gravitational pull at high altitudes could only improve performance insignificantly if at all. But Lewis would just as soon set any new records clear and free.