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Tom Tellez coaches Carl Lewis. "He's out of his head trying this," Tellez said last Friday of Lewis' aim of becoming the first man since 1886 to win the long jump and the two sprints—the 100 and 200 in yards then, meters now—in the national championships. "But I have to admit, he's done the work. He's ready."
Bill Lewis is father to Carl Lewis. "He's what I call a tactical thinker," Bill said in explaining why he wouldn't consider reminding his son of the possibility of injury during the four preliminary sprints, one qualifying jump and three finals Carl faced in the USA/Mobil Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis. "He plans things his own way, and there's nothing to do but respect that."
But the best judge of Carl Lewis is Carl Lewis. "I'm not so much moved by winning, especially winning things I've won before [he had won the 100 meter-long jump double the last two years], as I am by a new challenge," he said. "Adding the 200 is sure that."
He admitted, too, that one of the main reasons he had chosen to include the long sprint was that Jesse Owens had run the event. Owens won the 100, 200 and long jump and ran a leg on the winning 400-meter relay team in the 1936 Olympics. Could his reincarnation in the taller, stronger Lewis contemplate anything less?
Lewis began on Friday with the 100, winning his first-round heat in 10.32. Fifty minutes later he won his 200 heat in 20.70. "This is an unbelievably fast, a scary-fast track," he said of the Indiana stadium's wide, gentle turns and swift Mondo surface that has a sort of herringbone pattern pressed into it. "I'm nervous. It's neat. And there is some method to my madness. The 100 and long jump are my two major events. The 200 final is last, so I can fall apart in that and still make the team in my main things."
This national championship undoubtedly qualified top placers for more major summertime competitions than any in history. Do well and you could go to the U.S. vs. East Germany dual meet this week in Los Angeles, or the USOC National Sports Festival next week in Colorado Springs, or the World University Games July 1-11 in Edmonton, or the Pan American Games Aug. 14-29 in Caracas. But the team on which Lewis and everyone else coveted places was the one to the first-ever World Championships in Helsinki, Aug. 7-14. "That," said Lewis, "will be a better track meet than the Olympics."
It is a meet about 20 years overdue. There are plenty of invitationals and the World Cup, that oddity in which individual athletes represent whole continents, but outside of the Olympics, track has never had a true world championship. "The qualifying standards for Helsinki mean that only the top range of athletes will make it," said Lewis. "In the Olympics, countries can enter one athlete per event no matter how bad he is, so you have round after round of prelims to weed the bad ones out. And in Helsinki everything will be scheduled specifically for track, without all the frenzies and traffic jams of the Olympics. It's the first, so it's historic. It will be a great, great meet."
But it won't make anyone forget what Lewis did in Indianapolis. A couple of hours after his 200 heat, he took one long jump in the qualifying round. He touched down at 28'7¾", less than seven inches from Bob Beamon's once invulnerable world record of 29'2½". An aiding wind of 3.2 meters per second (2.00 mps is the legal limit) precluded any record possibility, but that didn't prevent half a stadiumful of imaginations from racing. "He's so close," one heard again and again in the coaches' section of the stands. "And we thought Beamon's record would last into the next century. I just wish Carl would stop fooling with the 200 and get on with what he does best...."
What Lewis did was pick up the shoes he uses for check marks along the runway, and trot serenely off to a good night's sleep.
The next day it seemed Indianapolis was intent on robbing him, as it did last year. This was, you will recall, the place where, in the 1982 Sports Festival, Lewis made a jump that some estimated to be 30 feet, only to have officials rule that even though he'd left no mark on the Plasticine that is used to detect a foul jump, his toe had broken the imaginary plane at the end of the board. Thus the sand was ordered swept before the jump could be measured. No such plane-breaking rule exists; the international and American rule books speak only of touching the ground beyond the end of the board. But the sand had been swept.