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Jumping Back Into The Limelight

Carl Lewis resumed his assault on the world long-jump record at the UCLA/Pepsi Invitational and came ever so close

If ever Evelyn Waugh had caught a glimpse or two of one Carl Lewis, here is what he would have said: "There ain't no flies on that lamb of God." For this Lewis constantly changes. This Lewis can't let a good thing alone, which became clear at the UCLA/Pepsi Invitational track meet on Saturday. For one thing, Lewis no longer soars off to the right on every long jump he takes, which means he's even better. For another, he has coaxed his locks to curl into a wet-look, brushed-back structure that evokes Little Richard, which means he's even more, uh, stylish.

But most happily astonishing of all, this Lewis, who last year swept past reporters and a wondering public with his face an urgently stony mask, hung around after the Pepsi meet to jaw a little and let everyone see that the niceness that had shone in him three or four years ago hadn't been completely excoriated by his Olympian ambition or experience. "No, not Little Richard," he said, explaining his latest look. "I took a nap one day and woke up with my hair somehow slicked back, and Carol [his sister] said it looked great, so I kept it."

Once again Lewis rattled Bob Beamon's 17-year-old world record of 29'2½" in the long jump, this time with a wind-aided 28'9¼". To break the record, Lewis will need the most favorable conditions and, of course, a technically perfect jump. In Mexico City those five Olympics ago, when Beamon made his perfect leap, he had a 2.00-meter-per-second aiding wind, the maximum allowed, and the 7,349-foot altitude there presented him with air only 76% as dense as he would have had at sea level. Such circumstances can hardly be conjured up at will, so Lewis rightly shies from promising that "the moment" will arrive in a given meet. But as he continues to whump down into the sand only a few fingers short of the most freakishly imposing record of all, he develops in the observer a sense that success is inevitable. Except for Beamon, Lewis is the only person to jump over 28'6"; and he has now done so 11 times. Even his opponents get caught up in this record assault. "It's out there. I know it's there!" yelled Willie Banks, who was also long jumping at the Pepsi meet, as Lewis rose from the pit after his second-best jump, also wind-aided, of 28'7¾".

Between his attempts, Lewis drew on a blue and yellow wind suit and sat in the infield, not at all impressed, ready to go farther. His shoes said Carl Lewis on the tabs behind the heels. His socks said Carl Lewis across the ankles. None of this matters much anymore. Surely the dominant track and field creature over the last half decade, Lewis is a fixture now, something of an institution, and his eccentricities don't seem to rile folks as they have in the recent past. Not, at least, the 12,215 in Drake Stadium, for the crowd contained dozens of kids affecting his flattop haircut.

On his fourth jump Lewis overran his check marks on the runway, and, making a last-instant adjustment of his steps, felt a cramp in his right hamstring. He passed his final two jumps, but there was no whining from the stands that he had shortchanged anyone, as there had been when he passed his last jumps in the Olympics.

"The crowd was more perceptive than the Olympic one," Lewis said. "The percentage of real track fans was a lot higher here."

That meant that most of them were in a frenzy while Lewis was jumping, because almost all the best performances of the fine track meet took place during those 35 minutes. With Lewis warming up, Bob Roggy threw the javelin 300'10". Kevin Akins put the shot 70'6¼" after Lewis's second jump. After Lewis's third, his Santa Monica TC teammate, Johnny Gray, blasted through a 50.4 first 400 and held on to reach the finish of the 800 meters in 1:44.72, the fastest time in the world this year.

And as Lewis was hunting up some ice for his sore hamstring, Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czechoslovakia was completing a splendid 800/400 double. The world-record holder at both distances, she had won the women's 800 easily, beating Olympic silver medalist Kim Gallagher, 2:00.72 to 2:01.43. On the last turn, when the petite Gallagher hung close to the brawny Kratochvilova, the race brought the crowd to its feet. But Kratochvilova was far too strong in the stretch. "I got excited there for a while, though, huh?" said Gallagher.

In the 400, an hour and 20 minutes later, Kratochvilova keyed on Diane Dixon, who was running in the lane outside her. Dixon led at 200, but Kratochvilova thundered down the stretch to win, this time by .99, in 49.89.

Kratochvilova is now 34, and her stride seems ever tighter and less graceful. Yet her strength just grows and grows. After her 400, the fastest in the world this year, she took about six deep breaths and began discussing one of her favorite subjects, retirement. But it was all talk. "I always say I quit, I'm done with it, and then I find myself running well, and I decide to run more," she said. "I was going to retire after the L.A. Olympics, but then I didn't get to go, so I said one more season. These races are good quality training for the European Cup in Moscow in August, and the World Cup in Australia in October."

Another whose best races are planned for later, Olympic 800-meter champion Joaquim Cruz of Brazil, would have preferred not to run at all. He had been exhausted by a trip from Eugene, Ore. to Sao Paulo the week before. But he had promised to run the mile at UCLA against Steve Scott, who had narrowly beaten him in last year's meet, and his mother was visiting from Brazil, so he came up with a gutty, revelatory race.

Mark Fricker, the race rabbit, towed the field through quarters of 57.9 and 1:57.3, and Jack Buckner of Great Britain grabbed the lead with one lap to go. "I didn't know who this guy was who passed me," Cruz said later. He stayed in second down the backstretch, running tentatively, wondering how much the pace had taken out of him.

Then, with 250 yards to go, Scott came tearing past. "I wanted to get the jump on him," said Scott, "and I wanted to disrupt Cruz's rhythm." This he achieved by cutting in on him. By the middle of the turn, Scott had a five-yard lead and Cruz was wallowing, seeming strangely listless.

"He surprised me with that," said Cruz. "I thought he'd wait to the last 100. I stopped a little to think what to do now."

The answer must not have come to him until there were only 80 yards to run. Then he launched a frantic sprint.

"I thought I had it in the stretch," said Scott. "The crowd wasn't yelling like anyone was coming. I should have looked over my shoulder. I'm sure I could have found another gear. I was in a relaxed sprint. I could have gone to a clawing, groaning, maniac sprint."

As it was, Cruz just got his shoulder ahead before the tape. It was close enough for there to be some question about who won. "Cruz won," said Scott. "I know about these things."

Cruz's time was 3:53.19, .01 ahead of Scott. Cruz was given the male Athlete of the Meet award; Lewis's jumping was statistically superior, but Cruz's sprint lifted the heart. "I didn't know I'd catch him until I actually caught him," said Cruz with a grin of amazement, as if he were wondering a little, with everyone, what other miracles might be in there, what might come out when he is rested and at his peak.

"Hey, it is May," said Lewis, bolstering the theme of noble beginnings. "As time goes on, the variables [against, for example, his popping the world record] will lessen. Before the cramp, I felt good. I was jumping well enough to go farther than 28-9. I could run off the board better. I'll just keep jumping and jumping...."

He made it sound like rather common labor, which seems a switch for the man whose individuality has redefined the star system in track. ("Let's make this dramatic," he said to the UCLA trainer. "Put the ice on my leg while I'm talking to Marty Liquori on camera.") But the fact is, Lewis feels a lot younger and fresher than he expected to find himself at the advanced age of 23.

Amid the Olympic push, he had had Kratochvilovian thoughts of ending his extraordinary career. He has taken acting and voice lessons for several years. "Last year I was tired. I was saying to myself, 'Hey, show biz in '85.' But I feel so good and am doing so well—training the same but competing better—that, well, why not keep going? If I go to entertainment and succeed, I'll do that for the rest of my life. If I go and flop, I'll be right back to track in a year. So I may as well delay that year of fateful decision as long as I can, right?"



Performing with renewed zest after his post-Olympic lull, Lewis leaped a wind-aided 28'9¼" as he pursued Beamon's 29'2½" mark.



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Kratochvilova (right) looked powerful winning the 800 and 400, but Cruz (below left) lagged and had to nip Scott at the tape.



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Jennifer Inniss had winning altitude and grace but came to earth a long-jump loser.