An hour before the qualifying round of the long jump in Sacramento last Friday, the first day of the three-day U.S.A./Mobil Track & Field Championships, Carl Lewis sat with his coach, Tom Tellez, in 104° heat and a dry, dusty wind. "The plan," he said with sudden eagerness, "is to organize things to have the best chance of winning the 100 and the long jump."
Forty-five years ago Jesse Owens won that sprint/jump double in the nationals, both NCAA and AAU. Lewis had done it at the NCAA meet in Baton Rouge two weeks ago, and now, despite the tempting possibility of approaching Bob Beamon's heretofore inviolate long-jump world record of 29'2½", felt that equaling his idol Owens' achievement was the more important. "I want to jump as little as possible and still win," he said, "so I can be rested for the 100."
Lewis displayed a new pair of jumping shoes, their ⅜ths inch of firm crepe under the spikes tapering to nothing at the rear of the shoe. "Negative heel is what that's called," he said, "so you can roll up on the ball of the foot for more height." In fact, all of his shoes and sweats were new because earlier in the week, while he was dining at San Francisco's Cliff House, a friend's car was broken into and Lewis' gear stolen.
Now grass fires on the verges of Sacramento began to drop sooty ash on Hughes Stadium. Happily oblivious, Lewis went out to warm up, saying, "I love this weather."
"There is an ease about him," said Tellez, "a kind of relaxed control that runs through his whole life, on the track and off. But look, that tail wind is blowing him too close to the board." Lewis fouled his first attempt.
The crux of horizontal jumping is reaching the board with both speed and the proper position from which to spring. On his second try, Lewis moved the starting point of his 21-step run six inches back, and still didn't get it right. "He backed off on his last four steps to keep from fouling," said Tellez.
Yet on this imperfect jump, Lewis didn't return to earth for 28'7¾", the second-longest ever, though he knew that the 4.57 meters-per-second wind was more than twice the allowable for record certification. "Uh, I really didn't mean to go that far in the qualifying," he said, shaking his head in gleeful embarrassment. "This year. I cannot believe this year."
The nationals had a lot to do with all the best U.S. track athletes' year, or at least their summer, because here were selected the teams that will compete in the U.S.S.R. dual meet in Leningrad on July 10-11, the World University Games in Bucharest in late July and the World Cup in Rome in early September. Only first-placers would go to the last (except as alternates or to run relays). "I really want to win the 100 here, so I can run it in the Cup," said Lewis. "If I have the lead after 60 meters, I just know I can hold on."
The meet's second afternoon was just as hot, but with no wind at all. After qualifying for the 100 final with a second-place 10.25 in his heat, Lewis carefully placed his sprint shoes a foot apart beside the long-jump runway, 32'6" from the takeoff point. "His last four steps are from there," said Tellez. "Watch if his foot lands behind or ahead of those two shoes and you'll know if he'll have to stretch for the board or slow to hit it."
A swarm of photographers bumped and jostled around the pit. The stands in the area were tightly packed. "There has never been more interest in the long jump than now," said Tellez. "When Beamon did 29 there was no warning, and he never came close again. But this year, with Carl going farther and farther, there has been amazing attention."