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Atlanta 1996 Olympics : The Countdown: 33 Days to the

Lewis' Career in 100 Hits the Finish Line

June 16, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

ATLANTA — Carl Lewis just became America's eighth-fastest human. Lewis ran dead last in an eight-man race Saturday night, so therefore won't be running the 100 meters at the Atlanta Olympics, a serious cramp in his plans to add a gold medal to the eight he already has.

Still entered in the 200 meters and the long jump as the U.S. Olympic track and field trials continue here, a ninth gold does remain a goal for Lewis, who took his defeat in stride by saying, "I can sit here and mope about it, or I can try to make this team and be an Olympian.

"If people feel like, 'Oh, poor Carl,' that's wasted energy. You should celebrate that I was here and I ran in the final."

This athlete who has won more Olympic medals than any other American will win no more in the Games' glamour event. Two weeks shy of his 35th birthday, Lewis was outrun for a place on the U.S. squad by a trio of younger men who celebrated what one of them, Jon Drummond, called "a definite changing of the guard."

Lewis' time was 10.21 seconds, a far cry from the 9.92 that he clocked eight years ago at the Seoul Olympics. A cramp in his right calf pained Lewis while he was qualifying in Saturday's semifinal heat, then reappeared in the final, he said, as soon as took his first step.

By finishing last, Lewis also effectively eliminated any chance of his rejoining the U.S. 400-meter relay team, which he has twice anchored to Olympic gold medals. Some latitude was possible had Lewis placed fourth, or even sixth, but rewarding an eighth-place runner would be a slap in the face of other top U.S. sprinters.

World-record holder Leroy Burrell, who did finish sixth, was in no mood to be asked if this seemed the end of Lewis' remarkable career on the track. Burrell snapped, "I'm not an expert on the end of anybody's career. Are you? What about when you're at the end of your career, you want me to come ask you that?"

Lewis didn't mind being asked.

"Think? Do I think it's over? I think definitely. I'm not running any more hundreds.

"Who knows about relays or jumps? I have some thinking to do on that. I'm a realist. When I started cramping, I knew it wasn't there. People can relate to what I'm trying to do.

"There are 100 good things about today and one bad thing. The good thing is that I am in good shape, good condition. But today my body just didn't give me the opportunity to perform."

The prestige event of many a Games, the 100 is a race that Lewis won at the Soviet-boycotted Los Angeles Olympics of 1984 and again after Ben Johnson's disqualification at the Seoul Olympics four years later, when the winning time of 9.79 was wiped off the books and Lewis' second-place time of 9.92 promoted him to the victor's stand.

He was a vision in red leather when he first burst onto the world scene, back when his manager, Joe Douglas, nonchalantly mentioned before the L.A. Olympics that he believed Lewis to be destined for a career as successful as singer Michael Jackson's.

There were other such comparisons, Lewis with his soft voice and artistic swagger, recording music and becoming more of a sensation on other continents than he did on his own.

Saturday night, like Julio Cesar Chavez having lost his last prizefight or Stefan Edberg acknowledging that his stroke just wasn't what it used to be, Lewis went out defeated but with his head held as high as when he crossed a finish line.

Even taking time to seek out a magazine writer to whom he had promised an interview, win or lose, Lewis couldn't locate him, to which Douglas ruefully said: "I guess he doesn't need us anymore."

Lewis took pains to emphasize that his Olympic career could very well be alive and kicking, if he can place in the top three along with heavily favored Michael Johnson in the 200 meters, or if he can regain the form in the long jump that has already won him three gold medals.

"Disappointed? I have two more events to do. I don't have any time for disappointment," Lewis said.

"This one's over with, it's done, nothing can be done about it. Even if I'd run 8 seconds, it would be over. It would still be time to move on to the next events. I'm not going to beat myself to death over this.

"I feel great about everything. If I hadn't tried this, I would have never known the outcome. Now I just have to go out and long jump like crazy."

In a hallway of the Olympic Stadium on his way out the door, Lewis heard someone call out to him: "You're still the man, Carl."

"That's the spirit," Carl called back.

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