The Modern Owens

The genius of Carl Lewis, modern athletics’ version of Jesse Owens, the legendary Olympian, was always obvious.  But, in professional sports, it’s easy to get emotionally lost, particularly when you are performing below expectation.

Linking who you are as a person with how you do on the playing arena is deceptively simple.  Every foible, every bad loss, is public business.  You have critics to remind you of your pitfalls.  And, you find yourself pressurised to meeting impossible expectations. You simply have to be someone you are not.  Lewis had known this business, inside out, for too long.  So do many of us.  But, that’s how the stakes work up there on the high pedestal of sporting glory.

Lewis was far from having a jolly good time, at one time.  Blame it on the law of averages, or whatever.  Yet, Lewis, in an international career spanning 16 seasons, had done it all: Olympic golds, world titles, global records, top international awards, and #1 rankings.  You name it, and Lewis achieved them all.  More than that, Lewis was been aware of the pure logic of Harveyism just as well: “No matter how you play, there is always someone who can beat you; always someone you can beat.”

Which only proclaimed to show that Lewis, despite his once near infallibility, was only human,  Human, to a fault.  In 1992, he was subject to a viral infection, and he did not find his bearings to making it to the Olympic team at 100 or 200. Add to this backdrop a back injury which the US superstar suffered in a car crash, and the following year was passé, Come 1994, and Lewis was back, almost in the pink of health, training with renewed vigour and gusto and looking ahead to all the good things of his athletic career.  Something, which was a part of his life’s kaleidoscope.

That year, Lewis had to weather a big storm.  He also learned to dismantling those mental blocks.  Or, was he going to call it curtains to a grand career which had all the trappings of a potential bestseller, a Hollywood box-office stuff?  Only time would tell.  But, so long as Lewis remained his calm, cool and Carl-self, there’s no reason why he could not keep going and giving his great rivals a run for their money.  What about motivation?  No problem.  He just wanted to have the long jump record in his name.  And, he wanted to run faster… to take the 100 record lower: down to 9.80.  Lewis was 33 summers old now.  Good.  He’s old enough, perhaps, to be called a veteran; young enough to winning newer honours.  That’s his epithet, no more, no less.

A great believer in sport etymologies, Lewis was all praise for his back-to-basics type of coach, Tom Tellaz, his mentor since 1979.  If Tellaz said that something ‘is right,’  it’s just perfect for Lewis.  And, Lewis was one sportsman who was always keen on eliminating variables.  Running for him was all rhythm, and sprinting, a rhythm and running in that state, a heightened level of psycho-somatic composition.

Lewis’s sprint was of “very high quality;” and, also quantity.  A perfect balance of muscular puissance and mental calmness…  of muscular endurance, achieved by running fast when tired.  Maybe, after having reached a Sergei Bubka-like or the Bjorn Borg level, Lewis also felt like revitalising his career, and the inevitable boredom that pronounced success often brought into any mortal’s mental frame.  Lewis admitted to this fact candidly.  He said that he also needed shocks to get back to his roots in sport.  Observed Lewis, once, on his choice – Olympics or world records:  “To win Olympic gold medals, you need conditions, conditioning and divine intervention.”

All that sort of X-rayed the Carl Lewis psyche.  His celebrity status was never a liability. He often dealt with his emotions in the best way possible – simply, sensibly and without jargon.  If this isn’t sporting greatness, what is?





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