Carl Lewis would remember his sensation throughout the long jump competition at Sunday's UCLA-Pepsi Invitational Track Meet in Los Angeles as one of twitching eagerness. It was a sensation shared by many of the athletes in Drake Stadium, who responded with a number of extraordinary performances, giving promise of a splendid outdoor season. "First, I wanted 27 feet," Lewis said. He leaped 27'3" on his opening jump. "Immediately, I thought 28." No American had ever jumped 28 feet, save for Bob Beamon's 29'2½" world-record performance of the century in the 1968 Olympics. "I got tensed," said Lewis, a University of Houston sophomore, and he fouled on his next jump, taking off an inch past the board on an effort that seemed to officials to have been beyond 28 feet. He fouled again. And yet again.
Lewis' coach, Tom Tellez, pointed out that the first step of Lewis' 145-foot approach would have to come down on the spot where the Tartan runway ended and the infield grass began. "To get his foot on the runway he'd been reaching a little," said Tellez. "It meant he was bound to overrun the board at the other end."
Lewis moved his starting mark back three inches, took a relaxed run and jumped 27'9¼". He had one attempt remaining. "The suspense was there," he said later. "I knew I was on. I wanted to get on down there and find out."
Lewis' hunger didn't go unobserved. Arnie Robinson, the 1976 Olympic champion, was in second place with 25'8" and was scheduled to jump before Lewis. Robinson watched his pacing, intent, 19-year-old rival, recognized what he saw and passed his last jump so Lewis could seize the moment.
A grateful Lewis began at once, using a good percentage of his 10.2 100-meter speed, although Tellez wouldn't call it Lewis' smoothest approach. But he jumped with power, performing a double hitch kick before striking the sand.
The crowd of 10,000 knew. As Lewis sank into the pit he was swept by that explosive, low, awestruck roar that only stunning performances elicit. "The last time I had a feeling like that was at the world-record indoors [when he jumped 27'10¼" in February in Fort Worth]." The athletes and coaches in the warmup and medical areas became silent, their heads turning. The sound of the crowd indicated that someone really had done something, and everyone felt it. "God, look at the goosebumps on my arm," said one bystander.
That was the effect on people who didn't even know what had happened, so imagine how Lewis felt. "I heard '28' and I got dancing," he said, "and then I thought, 'Whoa, 28 what?' "
It was 28'3¾", and Lewis, the pit's gray sand still dusting his legs, laughed and leaped, presenting the not entirely fanciful image of a man who can just soar on and on and on. Thus, it wasn't an especially cruel blow when the black-blazered officials, sweating in L.A.'s early-season 90° heat, announced that the aiding wind on Lewis' jump, which was longer than any except Beamon's miracle, was 2.02 meters per second. The maximum allowable wind for a jump to be accepted as a record (and the reading taken during Beamon's leap in Mexico City) is 2.00. At least, Lewis' 27'9¼" will be accepted as the American all-comers record.
"He'll do better," said Tellez, calmly. His relationship with Lewis seems more that of a privileged observer than a demanding coach. "We knew 28 feet was just a question of time," he said, "but 29? That's another matter. You can't predict that. No one can. All you can say is that it isn't inconceivable."
Lewis' timing of this remarkable leap couldn't have been better, as it came on Mother's Day before the gaze of his mother, Evelyn Lewis of Willingboro, N.J., who was speechless with delight. And his sister, Carol, a Houston-bound high school senior, got so excited that her own jumping fell apart. She came in fourth in the women's competition with a 20'5¼", a foot shorter than Kathy McMillan-Ray's winning jump. "I was really happy for him," Carol said. "I guess it drained me." It seemed the nicest possible excuse—being fouled up by too much familial love.