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Looking Back / 1984 Olympics Day 8 in L.A.

Lewis Off to a Dashing Start

August 04, 2004|Bill Dwyre

While foreign journalists remained stunned at the difference between what they had expected of Los Angeles and what they were actually experiencing -- "You can live here. You can breathe," one West German pundit wrote -- it was time for track and field, the marquee sport of every Summer Olympics.

Wrote The Times' Mike Littwin: "Little girl gymnasts have stolen our hearts. Swimmers have splashed waves all over our TV sets. Not a bad warmup. Now welcome to the Carl Lewis Olympics."

Sprint star Lewis, who figured to be a star of the Games, turned on the jets in the last 40 meters of the 100 and won the gold in a tidy 9.99 seconds.

"One down, three to go," King Carl remarked, as he looked toward winning the 200, the long jump and a relay medal.

In anticipation of Lewis' medal rush, Jim Murray, The Times' columnist, wrote: "Carl Lewis is now a commodity. Wrap him in a flag, open the sealed bids, take an ad in the Wall Street Journal and get the money up front."

Actually, nobody had to wrap Carl in a flag. Immediately after winning the 100, he found one on his own. He plucked it out of the hands of a fan from New Orleans, Paul Tucker, who said none of this was planned, that Lewis just ran by, picked it out of his hands and, later, returned it, saying, "Thanks a lot."

Al Joyner won the triple jump, while his more-publicized sister, Jackie Joyner, was edged out in the heptathlon and took the silver.

Chinese gymnast Li Ning won three golds and a silver in the men's individual competition, to go with his all-around bronze medal, and Edwin Moses made it through the semifinals in the 400 hurdles for his 104th consecutive victory in that event.

The side issues persisted but did little to detract from the Games.

ABC finally got athletes in the Olympic Villages, and to a lesser degree IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, to understand that the uproar over seeing too much of American athletes on TV was bogus. Viewers in other countries were receiving different feeds that catered to their athletes -- so much so, as a matter of fact, that television commentators in Australia and Italy were criticized for being homers.

Boxing Coach Pat Nappi, upset with controversy surrounding his own team and what was termed the meddling of another coach, Emanuel Steward, got all the way to LAX before being talked out of walking out on the whole deal. In the end, Nappi's boxing team would win nine of the 12 gold medals, a level that USA Boxing hasn't come close to matching since.

Two weightlifters, one from Algeria and one from Lebanon, neither medalists, were caught using performance-enhancing drugs and sent home. The IOC said they would be banned for life, which in IOC parlance meant about six months.

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-- Bill Dwyre

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