Does One Ever Simply Walk Away?

Story written by EPelle

Carl Lewis retired from athletics in 1997, and has since been steadily involved in several personal pursuits, including acting and singing - passions he says he's had for the past 20 years.

He also has an interest in politics.

The Daily Yomiuri ran an article on Lewis today as one of their reporters caught up with Lewis in Japan where Lewis was on location for a television special.

The article takes the reader into Lewis' current life - one where he juggles interests in stardom away from the track, and completely away from the field.

This is the second of articles I've come across in the past four weeks in which Lewis makes a very concerted effort to distance himself from the sport at all costs.

One doesn't need much reminder of how dominant Lewis was on the world scene - his record speaks of itself.

Two of his most remarkable feats were in Lewis not having lost a long jump competition for a decade - winning 65-consecutive competitions, and winning four gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, equaling the 1936 accomplishment of his hero, Jesse Owens. Lewis took home Olympic titles in the 100m (9,99), 200m (19,80 Olympic Record), long jump (8.54m/28-0,25)and 4x100m (37,83 World Record).

Two more notables on his long list of accomplishments were his setting a world record (9,86) in the 100 meters at the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo - his third-straight individual 100m crown, and being part of the greatest long jump competition ever contested, finishing second to American Mike Powell's world-record jump in the same meet - 8,95 to 8,91w.

There are no parallel's between Lewis' accomplishments and any other sprinter in modern day history.

Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly wrote about Lewis in 1996 following Lewis last Olympic medal - his fourth-straight long jump gold, stating "Lewis beat age, gravity, history, logic and the world at a rocking Olympic Stadium in Atlanta to win the Olympic gold medal in the long jump. It was quite possibly his most impossible moment in an impossibly brilliant career."

A career which Lewis seems very reluctant to remember, and apparently one which he wants the world to move past.

Lewis, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist, has found little time for athletics - though Lewis had recently launched a program to develop elite athletes. He was asked about his thoughts on the upcoming World Championships.

"What do you expect in Osaka next year?"

Lewis, continuing to keep the focus off his career, answered as such:

"It's interesting because I've been far, far away from the world of athletics. Since my retirement I've not been to one worlds, one nationals or any major meets. So I think it will be interesting and right now I'm still in the process to see whether I'm going to be there or not.

"But I've really chosen to stand back from the sport quite a lot since my retirement. And it was my choice.

"I have a new program called the "Carl Lewis' Elite Athletes Program" that will get me back involved in the sport. But just from putting together a team of coaches and staff people that can work with athletes, but we'll see if I'm going to be back involved there. Of course I hope the best and expect it to do very well because the Japanese people know how to do it. But I've just been so far removed from it, it's just hard for me to make a comment at this point."

I've been perplexed about Lewis' backdoor position, as it seems he has left a long legacy in the sport, but wants no business giving back to it on an elite level. He's done his, and has turned his focus onward.

He's creating an image of being nonchalant toward the sport - even when dicussion turns to drug use and cheating.

Ken Tamura, the reporter who met with Lewis in Japan, asked Lewis about why Ben Johnson had cheated. Lewis said Johnson did it, because he wasn't good enough. Lewis went on to say that people decide to cheat, because they want to be good enough.

When asked about how Lewis reacted to Justin Gatlin testing positive this summer, Lewis stated he didn't remember much of what had happened, stating, "I just saw the paper probably just like 90 percent of all of the people. Very disappointed because I'm tired of people cheating. If that's where it is, do the right thing. He talked a good game. As he was speaking out against drugs, he was taking drugs. It's very frustrating."

However, Lewis is shown on an ESPN special video late in the summer talking about Gatlin and Marion Jones not having to shoulder the blame alone in their recent doping scandals, stating that, instead, the athletes coaches are also in the wrong. He also chimed in and stated that running under 9,80 seconds in the 100m was unrealistic - an oddity, because he stated he never follows the sport.

Regardless of Lewis' involvement with the sport, his is still a voice which resonates far when one discusses steroids in athletics, and Lewis sees several ways the sport can be cleaner.

He had a chat with the Palisadian-Post about that topic on 28-September.

"There are three things that need to happen. First and foremost, athletes need to speak up about it. Otherwise, they may as well stop testing. Secondly, every athlete who tests positive needs to be investigated thoroughly. Thirdly, the federations that conduct the tests and institute the laws need to be held accountable. But it needs to start with the athletes themselves. "

I have no trouble with Lewis the athletics chapter in his life. He doesn't owe it to anyone to live in the past and dwell on how great life used to be. I wish him the best as he strives to make more of his life outside of athletics either as an actor, a mentor or a politician. He is striving to help rid the world of AIDS, and he wants to stop wars from occuring around the globe among other noble things.

However, I feel as though Lewis - by creating this atmosphere of being twice removed from his first love - has not gotten away from that image he portrayed during his career, namely one of being haughty and arrogant, cold and calculating, aloof and abrasive. His intentions may serve greater goods, but his style seems to lack the sharpening needed to be a leader.

Lewis performed in an era when athletics could not assure an athelte could earn substantial amounts of appearance fees and bonus money - it was a sport for "amateurs" and earnings were abismal. Many believe that Lewis' current blind eye to the sport is not for lack of interest in sprinting and records, but for being forgotten by the system for which he believes he was a catalyst.

He's currently involved in The Carl Lewis Foundation to help promote self-esteem in inner-city kids through sports and other programmes, and this may be one viable way for him to give back to the sport which has given so much to him. Children and at-risk teens may look up to him as a role model and a person of authority, giving Lewis 15 minutes of respect he missed out after his first Olympic experience.

However, being completely fair to his cause, I would like to point out that Lewis is thinking about some day running for office. He has a very keen interest in the No Child Left Behind Program, as he is quoted below from a 29-September Sports Illustrated article.

"Why do less than half the schools in America have P.E. as an elective? Why are we taking money out of schools and programs and then complaining about them?" he asks. "I mean, no child left behind? That means every child is not mine. They don't care about the basic kids in America. They create programs that are under funded. I just saw a report today that pissed me off. Do you know in order to get No Child Left Behind funds you have to allow the government to come in and recruit for the military?"

Lewis has been stated in the past to have lacked humilty. Perhaps one long discussion on the state of track and world affairs, his impact on the sport and a conscious effort by supporters to try understanding his movement into a possible political role may draw back his stiff, outstretched arm from the cold.

"I just think its ridiculous what we do," he said to Sports Illustrated.

"How politics and elections can get twisted, especially the 2004 election. It was ridiculous; all this patriotism and all this crap. Give me a break. I mean, Americans love their country, how dare anyone say you're anti-American if you don't support the invasion. I had "USA" on my chest. If somebody tells me I'm not American they haven't been out of their trailer. I mean, I'm sorry. If people think I'm un-American for my beliefs, they can go to hell. I had USA on my chest. I represented this country and they only know one zip code."

Until we're able to climb up to Lewis' postal code and talk "real life" instead of track, we know what to expect next time Lewis is asked to open up his mouth about athletics. All I can do personally is wish him all the best as he moves on forward one pursuit at a time.

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