Advertisement

ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Lewis Shows He's Not on Last Legs for Last Leg

Track and field: He's pushing hard for relay berth after winning long jump again. Coach says his team is set.

July 31, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Carl Lewis says he's not campaigning to run for the United States' 400-meter relay team, but he has not yet passed up an opportunity to do just that. His manager, Joe Douglas, calls the U.S. track and field coaches who did not select Lewis for the team incompetent. The U.S. men's head coach, Erv Hunt, says Lewis is not on the team but shouldn't go home to Houston yet.

The United States has almost never chosen an Olympic sprint relay team without controversy, but the issue was never so dissected as it has been since Lewis won his ninth gold medal Monday night with a long jump victory in Olympic Stadium.

At stake not only are U.S. fortunes in the relay but also Lewis' place in Olympic history. With a 10th gold medal, he would have more than any other athlete in the first 100 years of the Modern Games. He is tied with Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi, U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz and Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.

Another consideration is potential record television ratings on the day of the 400-relay final, Saturday, for a sport that in recent Olympics has fallen behind gymnastics, swimming, diving and basketball in U.S. viewership.

For that reason, pressure might be put on Hunt, the coach at California, to find room on the team for Lewis. But as of Tuesday evening, Hunt was sticking with his first team of Dennis Mitchell, Michael Marsh, Jon Drummond and Leroy Burrell.

"Carl has said he would be available," Hunt said. "I can understand him wanting to be on the relay team to get his 10th gold medal. But unless something happens in terms of an injury, the team that we've named is the team we're going to go with."

Lewis, meantime, appeared at a news conference Tuesday morning hosted by his apparel and shoe sponsor, Nike, that announced that an overnight poll conducted by ESPN.net revealed that 65% of those who responded want him on the relay. That's up from 50% in a poll taken by the same network before the Games.

"Erv is in the 35% bracket," Lewis said. "I'd love to run. For me to say I wouldn't would be crazy. I feel I can help the United States win. If they feel different, that's fine. I'm not lobbying.

"I've been in this for 16 years, and I want these Olympics to be an enjoyable experience. I'm tired of the bickering. I'd rather work in the garden."

How fast would his garden grow? Of the 10 fastest sprint relay teams ever, Lewis was the anchor for five of them.

After his eighth-place finish in the 100-meter final in the U.S. trials last month, Lewis was invited by Hunt to participate in the relay. Lewis said that he would only run if he were guaranteed that he would be used in the final--as he was in 1992 after a sixth-place finish in the 100 in the trials. Douglas, who heads the Santa Monica Track Club, said Lewis did not want to interrupt his long jump training if he was only going to be a relay alternate. That was the end of it until Tuesday.

Hunt said he would still consider Lewis as a candidate to run in one of the qualifying rounds along with alternates Jeff Williams and Tim Montgomery. Lewis said he would run only if promised he could run in the final, even though alternates who run in the rounds also receive medals if their teams finish among the first three in the final.

But the situation might still be fluid.

Asked by Douglas if Lewis should go home, Hunt said, "Stick around."

One problem for U.S. coaches is that by guaranteeing Lewis a place in the final, they would have to remove one of the members who has already been practicing with the team on handoffs. The first round is Friday.

"The coaches should make the decision that's best for the U.S. team," Douglas said. "They're nice guys, but they're incompetent."

Not even Douglas, however, wanted to tell Hunt which runner he should order to move over for Lewis. Two of the sprinters, Marsh and Burrell, run for Douglas' club.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

A Galaxy of Gold

Carl Lewis's gold-medal performance in the long jump Monday night--his fourth in as many Olympiads--put him in select company. Here are the athletes that have matched Lewis' prolific success:

CARL LEWIS

Has won nine gold medals and one silver in the 1984, '88, '92 and '96. Winner of four consecutive Olympic long jump titles.

PAAVO NURMI

Finnish long-distance runner had nine golds and three silvers in the games of 1920, '24 and '28.

AL OERTER

United States standout who won the discus in four straight Olympics from 1956, '60, '64 and '68.

RAY EWRY

Won eight golds for United States in the standing long jump, standing broad jump and standing triple jump in 1904 and 1908. Also won two golds in the controversial 1906 games, which are not recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|