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'Carl Lewis Show' takes Olympic center stage

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 6, 1984

Los Angeles

Just as the first week of Olympic competition ended here, the long-awaited Carl Lewis show began. The curtain-raiser was a beauty too, with Lewis triumphing easily in the 100-meter dash to secure the first of an expected four track and field gold medals.

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Before the race, Sam Graddy spoke of being able to beat his heralded teammate , but like everyone else, Sam got a good look at Carl's flying heels. In this shortest of all Olympic races, Graddy finished a distant second, several yards behind, with Canada's Ben Johnson taking third.

Though Lewis didn't set any records with his 9.9 clocking, he gave the US its first Olympic sprint champion since Jim Hines set the world mark in 1968.

Assuming his safe passage through the prelims, the other installments of the Lewis watch occur during finals for the long jump today, the 200 on Wednesday, and the 4 x 100-meter relay on Saturday.

While the centerpiece of the early track and field action, Lewis was not the only person mounting the victory stand. Athletes from a nice cross-section of countries emerged with gold, including Mexico's Ernesto Canto in the 20 kilometer walk, West Germany's Claudia Losch in the women's shot put, and Australia's Glynis Nunn in the heptathlon.

Nunn was the totally unexpected winner of the latter event, a seven-stage competition similar to the men's decathlon. She turned in personal bests across the board - in the 100 meter hurdles, shot put, 200 meters, high jump, long jump , javelin, and 800 meters. American Jackie Joyner, a pre-Olympic favorite, needed only to finish reasonably well in the 800 to wrap up the gold, but faded badly with a heavily wrapped leg and wound up with the silver.

Joyner's brother, Al, put the family on the gold standard, though, by winning the triple jump ahead of US teammate Mike Conley who got the silver.

At the same time a busy track schedule was kicking off at the Coliseum, action in other sports was ending or winding down.

Swimming concluded just the way it had started, with the United States winning a gold medal, this time when Rick Carey, Steve Lundquist, Pablo Morales, and Rowdy Gaines set a world record in the 400 medley relay.

As they celebrated on the pool deck, Lundquist spotted a TV camera and unfolded a towel that carried the message ''America thank you for a dream come true.'' It was a nice way of tying a ribbon on a big week for US swimmers. Altogether they captured 21 of a possible 29 golds, equaling the previous high set at Mexico City in 1968.

The fact that Eastern Bloc competitors, especially the East German women, were not on hand didn't seem to detract from the stars and stripes euphoria. ABC's extensive, pro-American coverage of this pool party, however, caused the International Olympic Committee to voice its concern. ABC seemed to appease the IOC by explaining that its international feed was distinct from the rah-rah one American viewers were seeing.

Actually, as people discovered, it was rather refreshing when a swimmer interrupted the unabashed US nationalism, as happened on several occasions.

Canadians Alex Baumann, Victor Davis, and Anne Ottenbrite, for example, gave their country its first swimming gold medals in 72 years. Holland's Petra Van Staveren took the women's 100-meter breastroke. Etienne Dagon grabbed a bronze in the men's 200-meter breaststroke for Switzerland's first-ever medal in the sport, and Venzueala's Rafael Vidal followed suit in the men's 200 butterfly.