''I think Carl Lewis can do anything he wants to do,'' volunteered Bob Beamon , whose 29 ft. 21/2 in. long jump at the Mexico City Olympics 16 years ago still stands as the world record. ''Under the right conditions, there is no reason why Lewis can't go over 29 ft., and when he does he'll do it easily. Eventually he's probably going to break my record.
''Basically our long jump techniques are different,'' continued Beamon, who once carried only 155 lbs. on his 6 ft. 4 in. frame. ''Carl uses speed to get where he is going; while I always relied more on height. I was a controlled long jumper - much more controlled than he is. But if he breaks the record, nobody is going to care how he did it.''
In a time when most track and field records were falling left and right, Beamon's 1968 leap was so far ahead of the next best effort that for a decade or more it was perceived as virtually unassailable. Lewis's arrival on the scene a few years ago changed all that, and Carl has come close enough on several occasions to make it clear that he has the capability of breaking it some day.
Whether Lewis is aware of it or not, though, Beamon claims that if he hadn't finished his record-breaking jump on such a low trajectory, the mark Carl is chasing could easily be about six inches longer.
Beamon says that although he didn't step back after completing his jump, he did graze the sand with his buttocks when he landed. Anyway, that was the point from which officials took their measurements, and that little mistake cost him a longer jump.
Asked if world-class long jumpers are born or made, Beamon replied: ''I think anyone who sets records obviously has been blessed with certain special physical abilities. There are some things that can't be taught. But good coaching and regular practice is bound to improve anyone, and I certainly made use of both during my career.''
When Beamon made his record jump, he did it on his first attempt, thus creating an instant psychological barrier for his opponents.
In fact, US Olympic teammate Ralph Boston reportedly said to Beamon: ''It's over for me, I can't jump that far.'' And Igor Ter-Ovanesyan of the Soviet Union , who speaks excellent English, later remarked: ''Compared to that jump, we are all children!''
However, this is another time and Carl Lewis, who needs a wheelbarrow to transport his confidence from track meet to track meet, is neither Boston nor Ter-Ovanesyan. Lewis has the mind and the body and the temperament to challenge mountains. Carl might well pull a Jesse Owens and win four gold medals (long jump, 100 and 200 meters, and 4x100 relay) in this year's Olympics.
During a 50-minute press conference at the 1984 US Track and Field Trials at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Lewis told reporters:
''I can definitely improve, because there are always things you can work on. Even though this is only my sixth track meet of the year, I probably won't compete in more than one other before the Olympics because I don't think I'll need it. Anyway, there is nothing to change now - no mystery as to what has to be done.''
When Lewis was asked about his chances of winning four gold medals in Los Angeles, he replied: ''I think my chances are very good, although my main goal is simply to be the best I can be.''
As for the record, he said that he thought he could long jump 30 ft., even though his personal high for the event is currently 28 ft. 101/4 in.
By winning his three individual events decisively in last month's trials, Lewis cemented his position as the gold medal favorite in all three at the Olympics themselves. The fourth one, though, in the relay, depends not only on his own performance but on that of the other three runners as well as their ability to work together as a team and to achieve the delicate timing needed to exchange the baton three times without losing precious fractions of seconds. This is one area where some critics feel US teams don't really get enough time to practice together - that they tend to be thrown together rather than crafted like the workings of a fine clock. Lewis, though, doesn't anticipate any difficulties along these lines.
''Relay practice is probably overrated because you can work out for several years and still drop the baton in a meet,'' he said. ''Mostly what you need are two good days of practice and one meet in which to establish your rhythm as a team. If the exchanges between runners are good, you can figure you're pretty much on schedule.''
One thing Lewis has never been very eager to share with his adoring public is his private life, which certainly is understandable. But it is known that Carl prefers living in the suburbs to the city; likes fast cars; has a passion for large dogs and video games; and collects different kinds of crystal.
Regarding this year's Olympic boycott by the Soviet Union and some other Eastern European nations, Lewis said: ''It hasn't really affected me. The Olympics are going to be the most important experience of my life and, if nobody else decided to show, we'd still have a ball.''