While Jesse Owens helped to establish track and field as a significant sport, it was Carl Lewis who made it a popular pastime. He was the most remarkable track and field athlete of the twentieth century, and he was instrumental in transforming the sport from amateur to professional. Lewis not only made a name for himself in the sport, but also elevated it from a mediocre and inept level to a big international event. He was a dominant sprinter and long jumper throughout the course of a two-decade career. He set some records and broke others, some of which have remained unmatched and unchanged until this day. While he has the indoor long jump record, which he has held since 1984, his winning streak of 65 consecutive triumphs in the sport is unrivaled. He also set world records in the 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100m relay races. He won ten Olympic medals, nine of which were gold, and ten World Championship medals, eight of which were gold. In addition, he won two gold medals in the Pan American Games and three gold medals in the Goodwill Games, respectively. Browse the biography to learn more about his life, childhood, and career.
Childhood and Adolescence
Carl Lewis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, to William and Evelyn Lewis. He was one of the couple’s three children. He spent much of his childhood in Willingboro Township, New Jersey.
Despite being from a middle-class family, his parents exposed him to a variety of sports from an early age, as both of them worked as professional coaches and owned a local athletic club.
Academically, he graduated from Willingboro High School and went on to the University of Houston to further his education.
When he was thirteen, he took his first long jump attempt. He quickly rose to the top of New Jersey’s junior long jumpers. As he got older, he was regarded as one of the best long jumpers in the world and one of the best athletes in the country.
In 1979, he set a new national record by breaking the high school long jump record with a leap of 8.13 meters. Tom Tellez taught him at the University of Houston. He resumed his track and field career and finished fifth in the world long jump rankings.
He hoped to establish a future in sports by utilizing his athletic ability. He qualified for the 1980 Olympics in the long jump and as a member of the 4 100 m relay team for the United States. Lewis did not compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to a boycott by Western nations. Instead, he competed in the Liberty Bell Classic, an alternative competition for countries boycotting the Olympics. In the long jump and the 4 100 m relay, he won bronze and gold, respectively.
The year 1981 was a watershed moment in the history of the United States. With a leap of 8.62 meters, he became the second-best long jumper in history and the world’s fastest 100 meter sprinter in 10 seconds flat. In the 100m and long jump, he earned his first national and NCAA title for the University of Houston.
He won the long jump, the 100m event, and the 4 x 100m relay race at the first World Championships in 1983. He set a world record in the latter by winning it in 37.86 seconds. In addition, he competed in the TAC Championships.
By 1984, his reputation as the best athlete in the world had grown by leaps and bounds. He went into the Olympics as a hot favorite and lived up to the hype by capturing four gold medals, matching Jesse Owen’s record. He won gold medals in the 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, 4 x 100 meter relay, and long jump.
Despite winning four gold medals in a single Olympic Games, Lewis struggled to secure lucrative sponsorship deals due to track and field’s low profile in the United States. His lack of humility and showy attire ruined his reputation.
By 1985, his supremacy in the 100-meter dash had been questioned. Ben Johnson, as well as others, beat him in the 100m sprint in 1985 and 1986. The defeats had a significant impact, as he was unable to keep his number one ranking in 1986.
Despite winning gold medals in the long jump and the 4 x 100m relay race in the second season of World Championships in 1987, history was made when Ben Johnson surpassed him and set a world record in the 100m race with a time of 9.83 seconds. He went into the 1988 Olympic Games with a bang, following his much-hyped loss in 1987. Despite losing behind Johnson in the 100m, Johnson’s positive drug test result allowed Lewis to set a new Olympic record of 9.92 seconds and win the gold medal. He also won gold in the long jump.
In the years after that, he lost his 100m sprint title to fellow American and University of Houston teammate Leroy Burrell, who established a world record with a time of 9.90 seconds. Long jump, on the other hand, was undisputed territory in which he maintained his dominance.
His best achievement came in 1991, when he won the 100m final at the World Championships. More than ten contestants finished in under ten seconds, indicating that the competition was tough. With a time of 9.86 seconds, he set a new world record and declared the race to be his best ever. In addition, he set a world record in the 4 100 m event, finishing in 37.50 seconds to win gold. In the long jump, he lost for the first time in more than a decade against Mike Powell, who broke Bob Beamon’s 23-year-old world record with a leap of 8.95 meters.
Following 1991, Lewis’ supremacy in track and field began to wane. He only qualified for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games in the long jump and the 4 x 100m relay, and he won gold medals in both events.
He only earned a bronze medal in his debut 200m race at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart.
Injuries kept him out of the game for the next few years after 1993. In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he made a return, winning gold in the long jump with a leap of 8.50 meters.
In 1997, he announced his retirement from track & field.
He currently runs C.L.E.G., a marketing and branding firm that markets and brands products and services, including his own. He has also appeared in a number of films.
Achievements & Awards
During his active years, he was the indisputable champion of track and field, as evidenced by his medals. While he has nine gold and one silver medals from the Olympics, he has eight gold, one silver, and one bronze medal from the World Championships. He earned two gold medals at the Pan American Games and three gold medals at the Goodwill Games, respectively. ‘Sportman of the Century,’ ‘World Athlete of the Century,’ and ‘Olympian of the Century,’ among other titles, have been bestowed upon him by publications all over the world.
Personal History and Legacy
In 1990, he became a vegan, which he credits with his remarkable achievement in the 1991 World Championship.
He was named a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Goodwill Ambassador. In addition, he became an official supporter of Ronald McDonald House Charities and is a member of the Friends of RMHC celebrity board.
Other than Jesse Owens, he is the only athlete to have won four gold medals in a single Olympic Games.