He stands at the top of the runway, his warmup-jacket collar flipped up over his neck in the style of someone who wants very much to be different, which he does, and his expression saying Oh, it's up. Breeze must've caught it.
Around his neck is an orange headband—quite happy to be the only headband in the arena being worn around a neck—advertising the TV station he works for in Houston.
On his feet are a pair of long-jump shoes molded specially for him. That was his idea, too.
On the back of his custom-tailored warmup suit, in case you confused him with another jogger, is stitched his name. Oh, that's Carl Lewis.
He strips to his shorts and sleeveless T shirt, and now he seems a little more like the rest of them. But he's not. Even as he sprints down the long jump runway, he can hear the words the people around him are saying. He can take all the tension in the arena, all the feeling, and make it his. He becomes all he can be.
With his hands opened flat, in a manner unlike anyone else's, he accelerates faster than anyone on earth. A few millimeters from a strip of white Plasticine, he leaves the surface. All of him is in the jump, the soft side you see up around his eyes and the aggressive side you see in the definition of his muscles, all the intellect and all the emotion. He is whole.
He travels farther in the air than any one in the world, but as he dusts off the sand a voice inside already is telling him that this isn't the perfect jump. In the perfect jump, he's subject to no limits or laws. In the perfect jump, Lewis will not land.
In Japan last January, Lewis, his family and friends, harried by media and fans, decided to visit the ancient capital city of Kyoto to get away from it all. He went through his wardrobe and chose something that wouldn't make him appear quite so singular. "A big black cowboy hat, a big black cashmere coat and big black cowboy boots," recalls Don Coleman, a Nike representative and friend of Lewis's. "He looked like the king of kings."
In Kyoto, Lewis and his entourage stood before a majestic Shinto shrine. Around him, Japanese pressed their hands together and bowed, paying homage to something larger than they, while in a different way Lewis's friends and relatives did, too. They clicked their cameras, pointed their fingers and exclaimed.
"Every so often," says Coleman, "Carl would glance at something. No big deal. He's the only person I know who has been around the world five times and never taken a picture."