Carl Lewis had decided not to long-jump, but he still held everyone's attention at the Bruce Jenner Michelob Light Classic last Saturday at San Jose (Calif.) City College. All eyes focused on Lewis the sprinter as he stood with his sister, Carol, in the middle of the infield, well inside the aqua band of the Chevron 400-surfaced track, where the autograph hounds couldn't follow. Then the final call went out for the 200 meters.
"Is the 200 next?" asked Carl.
"Yes," said Carol.
"Is it really?" asked Carl.
"Yes," said Carol. "Lunching, eh?"
Carl Lewis didn't hear his sister's gentle reprimand, having already bounded off for the starting blocks. At last year's TAC championships, in one of the rare 200s of his career, Lewis had stunned the track world with a 19.75, only .03 off the world record Italy's Pietro Mennea had set in 1979 in the thin air of Mexico City. "That 19.75 opened my eyes," Lewis said. "Today will tell the tale."
Lewis plans to go for gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4 x 100-meter relay as well as the long jump in the Olympics, and the Jenner meet was a test of the notion that he's the finest sprinter in the world today. He had already won the 100 in 10.00, lifting into his matchless overdrive in the final 40 meters to beat Ron Brown (10.07) by a long stride. Brown is the Arizona State Wildcat turned Los Angeles Ram and the last man to beat Lewis at that distance, at this same meet last year.
In the 200 Lewis was in Lane 4, sandwiched between Dwayne Evans, the 1976 Olympic bronze medalist at that distance, and Don Quarrie of Jamaica, the '76 gold medalist. James Butler, a fine turn runner, was in Lane 7. Carol Lewis explained her brother's mission. "In that 19.75 at the TACs," she said, "he didn't know how fast he was going. Everyone got on him because he lifted his arms and celebrated so early. He knows he could've broken the record. He wants to go under 20 today."
Lewis slanted his starting blocks to his liking, removed his warmups and shook himself out. He planned to pace himself off Quarrie, try to run the first 100 in about 10.2, then see what he had after that. "If I come out of the turn on top," he said, "well...people are somewhat intimidated by my finish."
That had been the case with Brown in the 100. The day before the race, he'd said he wanted to prove he was the world's fastest human. He powered out of the blocks, intent on giving Lewis too much ground to make up in the final 50 meters, where, as he and Calvin Smith (the world-record holder at 9.93, who didn't run) and Mel Lattany (who did) know, Lewis is the master. But Lewis started well, too, and Brown had only a slight lead at 40 meters. Then Lewis lifted into that zone that leaves other sprinters in awe, and won with relative ease.
"I got into my final running form after 30 meters. That's too soon against Lewis," said Brown while having his back adjusted by chiropractor Leroy Perry. "If you don't have acceleration after 60 meters with Carl, you've lost." Steve Williams, 30, the No. 1 sprinter in the world in the mid-'70s, ran both races Saturday (he finished sixth in the 100; seventh in the 200), and he agreed with Brown. "The 100 correlates with his event, which—I think—is still the long jump," said Williams. "Every world-class sprinter should be able to long-jump 25 feet. The 100 and long-jump combination is a mustering of forces. The 200 is more of a sustained thing, and even though Carl runs a good curve and has, well...just forget about mechanics, he has them down so well...he'll still find the 200 to be a little different."
As Lewis settled into his blocks, the crowd of 10,000 was still buzzing about what had been billed—appropriately, it turned out—as the Super Shotput. "We want to give the strength guys an arena and let them show off their form," said meet director Bert Bonanno. "The poorest guy out there throws sixty-nine two." Accordingly, Bonanno didn't use the usual spot for the shotput, the west end zone of the stadium's football field. Instead, he set up the landing area in the center of the field, marked it with silver helium balloons and ordered the release circle placed on the near sideline, right where the 50-yard line would be. Center stage.
Microphones were provided so the audience could hear the amplified grunts, yowls and screams of the competitors. Brian Oldfield, Dave Laut, Michael Carter and John Brenner responded with some stuff that Steven Spielberg could have used as voice-overs in particularly blood-curdling scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as well as six 70-foot throws.
It was the first time four men have thrown 70 feet in one competition. For Carter, the defensive tackle from SMU drafted in the fifth round by the San Francisco 49ers, this was his initial trip over 70 feet, but he could do no better than fourth, at 70'3". Brenner threw 70'10", Laut 70'9¾". But it was the 38-year-old Oldfield who won the day, on his third put, booming out an American-record 72'9¾" toss that fell just one inch short of the world record set by East Germany's Udo Beyer last June at a U.S.-East German dual meet in Los Angeles. Oldfield, who turns 39 on June 1, cannot compete in the Olympics, having lost his eligibility when he joined the professional International Track Association in 1973.
"Seventy feet can't be mundane, can it?" asked Laut. "I mean, some person asked me what went wrong, and I just went seventy ten."
Nor can any 200 with Lewis in it be considered ordinary. "What Carl has more than anything," said Williams as he headed off for Lane 2, "is the ability to get to the full-speed point and then put out even more energy. You have to think of that when you race against him."
Lewis lifted into high in the turn, making up the stagger on Quarrie while still in the curve, and came into the straightaway clearly in the lead. Probably because of that effort he was unable to find that extra energy. Williams had said the 200 was a little different. "You have to gain experience in it, like any other race," he said. And so 50 meters from the tape, a strange thing happened. Lewis stopped pulling away. Still, he won, in 20.01.
"It wasn't like winning at 100 meters, that's for sure," Lewis said afterward. Evans (20.29) had actually closed two meters on Lewis in the final 30 to come in second. Lewis had looked to his right—Quarrie's side—in the final 10 meters. He knew that he hadn't finished well, and he wanted to see if a 200-meter specialist had made up any ground. If he'd looked left, toward Evans, he would have seen that one had.
Still, Lewis was buoyed by his run. "I'm confident in the 200," he said. "I don't feel there's anyone who can run the turn with me. This is my last meet before the Olympic trials and I'm undefeated this year. I'm a better 200-meter runner than 100-meter runner. I think I can take control of any race, and I'm looking forward to some great performances."
The long jump was never mentioned. Ah yes, the long jump.
For Lewis, the 200 is the toughest of the four events in which he's going for gold.
Oldfield broke his own American record by 6¾".