Skip to main content
Original Issue


The merest zephyr prevented Carl Lewis from achieving the most remarkable feat of an outstanding track and field meet

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.

Such isn't quite the feeling between the two finest high hurdlers the world has ever known, Renaldo Nehemiah and Greg Foster. Nehemiah, who set the world record of 13.00 in this meet in 1979, has always been glibly at ease in the public eye, while Foster, whose best going into the Pepsi meet was 13.22, has never been comfortable with the idea, or fact, of celebrity. Nehemiah, whose blazing start forces all opponents to play catch-up, especially the taller Foster, also is a consummate verbal tactician; he has repeatedly pointed out how his rival's frantic, late-race pressing was bound to get Foster in trouble. And, indeed, such remarks often have been followed by Foster's splintering one or more of the last five hurdles as Nehemiah flowed on to win.

But last year Nehemiah quit the University of Maryland team, and this year he won the Superstars competition, neither of which led him to do much early-season speed work. And Foster has trained exceptionally well, concentrating on form and hurdles, not dialogue or rivals seen out of the corner of his eye. Yet for a while the race seemed a continuation of Nehemiah's mastery, for there he was over the first hurdle with his polished style. But this time Foster wasn't watching. "Just the hurdles and the finish line," he said later. By the third hurdle he had caught Nehemiah and was running with hard, choppy swiftness. He won by three or four yards, an impressive margin. Nehemiah, strong but not yet fast, was third (13.46) behind Sam Turner of" the Stars and Stripes T.C. (13.43). Foster's time was a resounding 13.10, the second-fastest ever run. "I haven't felt this good since high school," he said.

Nehemiah, who acknowledged he had taken a chance by challenging a man of Foster's gifts without much preparation, went right back to his old song: "Greg is more or less in a must-win situation. He has to win...and this time he did it. This time."

Foster, a UCLA senior who will begin graduate work in child psychology there next fall, smiled at that. "The mental barrier is gone," he said, "and I think he knows it's gone. He has been good at keeping me off balance, but with the help of my academic counselor in psychology. I've got my mind under control." Then he went to gather his textbooks for a physics midterm. "The way I feel now, I'm going to kill it." It was a satisfying surety, and this quiet man's buoyed confidence promises to do more than raise his grades; it will strengthen an already splendid American rivalry.

The other closely matched pair of Americans, sprinters James San ford and Stanley Floyd, had a good rip at each other in the 100 meters. Floyd, coming back from a knotted hamstring that had kept him out of hard racing since March, got a perfect start. Sanford drew even at 30 meters, accelerating smoothly, and Floyd hesitated. "Should I or shouldn't I," he thought. "If I put all-out pressure on my leg I might go faster." While Floyd was thinking, Sanford gained a two-yard lead. Floyd cut it to two feet by race's end. Their times, run into a headwind of .8 meter per second, were 10.05 and 10.10. "With the wind at our back, we could've run 10.0," said Sanford, who, rather than twisting the screws to Floyd, sought to build him up. "The man, he has pride," Sanford said. "I think there will be a time when Stanley beats me. He's the world's No. 1-ranking sprinter [from last season, when Sanford was injured], and you have to look at the outcome of a whole year, whoever has the most victories." That sort of talk is uncharacteristic of sprinters. Dash men have traditionally been preening and catty. "Nah, we don't try to psych each other out like they did in the '60s," said Sanford. "May the best man win."

Then he won the 200 as well, in the fastest time in the world this year, 20.20. "What a day, what a track," Sanford said.

The meet's other double winner, Evelyn Ashford, had to try to the limit in the 100, which she won from UCLA's rocket-starting Jeanette Bolden in 10.99 to 11.18. When the time was announced, Ashford leaped up and shouted, "I told you so," to her sheepish coach, Pat Connolly. That was because Ashford had rashly announced earlier in the day that never again would she run a 100 meters slower than 11 seconds, which didn't give her a lot of room for error, because her American record is 10.97. "It was a kind of joke," Ashford said, "but in the back of my mind I was serious."

More grave still were her feelings about running the 400. "The 100 is to make me fast, the 400 to make me strong," she said, "but I hate the 400. It's not so bad when you're running, but afterward...well, I hate to think of the hurt." She put it out of mind long enough to ease to a 51.80 win, being strong enough to keep on running around the curve after the finish while her pursuers thrashed and died in the stretch. It seemed a dutiful exhibition more than a hard race and hinted at far better things to come.

Indeed, in event after event, new season leaders burst forth, men like Arizona State freshman Howard Henley, who won the 400 in 44.92, the year's fastest time. Or ageless Mike Boit of Kenya and the Southern California Striders—he literally is ageless, not knowing when he was born; he figures he's within a year or two of 33—who won the 800 in 1:45.43.

Both the women's and the men's miles were races that provided clear looks at potential being rapidly fulfilled. Francie Larrieu set a pace of 2:15.4 for the half in the woman's run, which in years past would have separated her from all but Jan Merrill. Now it got rid of absolutely no one in the field of 12. Down the last backstretch there were still seven runners in close contention, and Oregon's Leann Warren, a sophomore who is known more for her half-miling and good mile-relay legs, settled it with a strong sprint through the last curve. Merrill, still hampered by a whiplash injury suffered when a jogger crashed into her at this meet a year ago, was a game second. Warren's winning time of 4:30.36 was a women's collegiate record. It was the first mile race that she had ever run in her life, and she walked around pale and faint for some minutes afterward. Her first coherent words were, "It's so long." But obviously she was recovering rapidly, because her second words were, "You know, I think I could have kicked even earlier and gone faster."

Steve Scott had trained with this meet in mind ever since the indoor season. "The crowd and track and weather have the best chance of being right for a record at UCLA," he had said. The record he sought was Jim Ryun's 14-year-old U.S. mile standard of 3:51.1. Scott got all the right conditions but the weather. The hot, dry day seemed to turn a fine field of milers more than usually cautious. By three-quarters, reached first by Villanova's Sydney Maree in 2:59.2, all hope of a record was gone. Scott was in sixth, and the other man who seemed most prepared for this early-season race was right behind him. New Zealand's John Walker had run a 3:50.58 mile six weeks earlier in Auckland and then had moved his wife and 20-month-old daughter to the U.S., probably permanently. Now, with 300 meters to go, he took off. Scott chose precisely that moment to begin his own kick. Down the backstretch the pair flew past Craig Masback, Steve Lacy, Ray Flynn, Maree and Eamonn Coghlan. On the turn Scott gained a yard or two on Walker. "I ran really scared in the stretch," Scott said. He misread the crowd's screaming, thinking it meant Walker was right behind him, when it really signified appreciation for this ever-improving miler's most impressive kick. Scott hit the tape in 3:52.50, having run his last lap in less than 53 seconds. Walker was timed in 3:53.98, and Coghlan in third did 3:54.94. "I could feel we were slow even in the first quarter," said Scott, "but it was so hot I felt tired, and I wasn't going to take off in this type of weather."

It was about then that Carl Lewis happened to let 28'3¾" of ground pass beneath him and thus make this meet of so many splendid performances his own. And that, in turn, gave him a chance to examine close up the kind of work he hopes his communications studies will one day lead him to—sports announcing. In this case, it was a little breathless talk with Bruce Jenner, which Lewis was too kind to critique later, but which was shown only in abbreviated form on NBC's broadcast of the meet. "Jenner was excited," was all Lewis would say. "I was excited." Then, with a nod to his excited sister Carol, he said, "Emotion sometimes makes things hard." He was right about that, for sure, because his own happy eagerness had unexpectedly brought this track season to a bloom the sport hasn't shown since before the Moscow Olympic boycott.


Lewis' wind-aided jump of 28'3¾" was second only to Beamon's stunning leap at Mexico City.


Greg Foster was able to keep his concentration on hurdling—not Renaldo Nehemiah (third from right)—and beat his archrival with a personal best of 13.10.


The heat resulted in a slow early pace for milers Coghlan (No. 1), Scott (2) and Walker (left).


Scott blazed home with a 52.8 final quarter.


Warren said so long, then gasped that a mile is "so long."