Harris: Joining me now is Olympic legend Carl Lewis, who is so fast he can do two things at once. One of them is his new book, which I understand is like a diary of your Olympic year last year, right?
Lewis: Yes. We started January 1st and we did it in diary form, a feeling of the entire season. It was interesting even for me because a diary can be therapeutic, and for me to look back at it to see some of the entries in January and February was interesting as well.
Harris: I know you’re bringing copies of the book to a charity event this weekend, but I heard a rumor about something and I wondered if you were bringing that along as well. I heard that when you made that unbelievable jump — the one where in the qualifying round you were in 15th place, and everybody was saying “oh man, can Carl do it again?”, and you literally jumped from 15th to 1st in the long jump — that afterwards you went over with a ziplock bag and took some sand out of the pit. Is that true?
Lewis: Yes, it is. I just wanted to keep some of that because I knew it would be my last international-type competition. I took a little bit of the sand as a feature. Not knowing what I would do with it, but I took some of it.
Harris: Are you bringing some of it with you here?
Lewis: Yeah, some of that sand will be an auction item. That’s one of the things I’m doing, were giving it away for auction. So I’m pretty excited. It’s the first thing I’ve done with any of it.
Harris: That’s very cool. Now let’s go back to that jump. Again, you’re thinking to yourself this may be the last time, I’ve gotta make this one count. But you had a long time to wait while all the other guys were jumping. What was going through your mind as you’re sitting there or running around getting ready for that jump? What are you thinking?
Lewis: Well, really it comes down to two things, because I’m in 15th place, but the qualifying standard is a distance of 26’5″. So I didn’t have to worry about being in the top 12 to be a finalist. I just had to worry about jumping that far. So my main thing was concentrating on what I had to do to jump over 26’5″. That made it simpler for me. I think if I had focused on trying to get into the top 12 it would have been more difficult. But it was a long time, you’re right, because we had to wait for 25 jumpers to jump. I just kept thinking about…26’5″…26’5″…26’5″…and then of course I was able to jump further than anyone else.
Harris: Were you also thinking about Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who the night before had been kind of in a similar situation where she pulled her hamstring or something?
Lewis: The day before Jackie had had an injury and I remember watching television that night and they had one of those Enberg Moments about Jackie.
Harris: The Dick Enberg Moment.
Lewis: Absolutely. And I was like, “This is my night to be an Enberg Moment,” you know?
Lewis: I wanted it to be tomorrow night, so that was going through my head, all these things were. But I just kept trying to keep the issues simple with this thing saying to myself, “Look, all you gotta do is jump over twenty-six five”.
Harris: Right, and you don’t want the last thing people remember you by for to be an Enberg Moment.
Lewis: Definitely not that night, the next night was okay.
Harris: Carl, what’s it like now? You had been in training pretty hard for the Olympics and other major competitions for god-only-knows how many years and now you’re away from it — are you staying in shape or are you just hanging out eating donuts and kicking back with George Foreman?
Lewis: [laughs] Well, right now this is my last season. Of course I’m staying in shape to do that. But for me the off season stays very busy with traveling and a bunch of different things. Because during the season you cannot travel very much. I’m going to stay in shape. I mean I’ve always been fit so that’s something I’m interested in doing.
Harris: You don’t want to sit down and have a double cheeseburger? Come on, Carl.
Lewis: No, no. That’s just because I’ve always tried to stay in shape and I like that, its obviously healthy for me as well.
Harris: Is there anything in the back of your mind that says “hmmm…2000…maybe…maybe I’ll give it a shot.” How old are you now Carl?
Lewis: I’m 35, and no, there is nothing in the back of my mind.
Lewis: I’ve gone long enough and now it’s time, I think. For me it’s more. I’ve had an incredible career from my perspective and it’s been a lot of fun. But you can’t. You can take really two choices: you can run until they won’t let you in meets anymore or you can just say this is enough. I decided on the second. This is enough and it’s been fun. I’ve been blessed, but there is a time when you just say “that’s it,” and we’ve made that decision.
Harris: Good for you. You certainly would be in that competition for greatest Olympian ever with the 9 gold medals. Let me ask you one other running question. Because you, like everybody else, must have been watching Michael Johnson in that 200 last summer. When he got that 19.32, what was your reaction?
Lewis: Well, it was an unbelievable race. There was no question about that. I haven’t seen anything like that in a long, long time.
Harris: I know you’re at 19.75, you’re #5 on the all-time 200 list. 19.75, 19.74 and when Johnson blew it by four-tenths of a second faster than you had ever run, is there a runners reaction like, “Oh my god!”?
Lewis: Well, the fact that he had never run near that time in his career and dropped that far in one race shocked everybody. It was a fast race and it was something that surprised everybody, including him.
Harris: What do you think of the race he’s going to do with Donovan Bailey, that big event they’re doing up in Toronto in May. Donovan the 100 champ, Michael the 200 champ, who do you like in that?
Lewis: Well, it will be interesting, because they’re both running races that obviously no one has run before, so it’s hard to really tell. I think Michael has an advantage because he’s run on the turn a lot more. But with track and field it’s funny, you can look at things and you can head into things and all of a sudden — BAM!! Something else totally different happens, so it’s hard to really call, but I think Michael has an advantage.
Harris: Could you take him, Carl? Be honest.
Lewis: I really don’t care. [laughs] Been there, done that. Let these other guys run and really enjoy themselves.
Harris: I know you’ve been involved in things with the Kidney Foundation and especially organ donor awareness. Aren’t you Honorary Chairman of the Transplant Games?
Lewis: Yes, I’ve been involved in the Transplant Games since 1990, and the Wendy March Foundation for Organ Donor Awareness, and some other things for the Kidney Foundation. That’s a very important issue. We have one of those situations where technology has surpassed human effort in a sense. Now humans need become more aware of donating their organs. We’re not blaming anybody, it’s just that people need to understand more.
Harris: Fill out the card and put it in your wallet.
Lewis: Absolutely. Our job has been just to create awareness to allow to people understand it more. If they understood it more they would donate the organs. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Harris: I know a lot of people would be happy to get your organs, Carl, man oh man.
Harris: Thanks for joining me this morning, Carl.
Lewis: Thank you, I had a great time, Paul.
Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Nicci Murphy.