NEW YORK -- Carl Lewis, who is a millionaire, is running a benefit for himself on his 30th birthday.
At least he understands how farcical the thing is.
The event in question is the July 1 race in Lille, France, where Lewis will meet Canada's Ben Johnson for the first time since the 100-meter final at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
On that day, Johnson was first to the finish in a world-record 9.79 seconds, well ahead of Lewis in a personal-best 9.92. Three days later, the announcement of a positive test for steroids stripped Johnson of record, medal and career, as he was suspended by the International Amateur Athletic Federation for two years. His archrival, Lewis, inherited the gold medal and eventually also the world record with that 9.92.
Given that history, it was obvious there would be anticipation of a Lewis-Johnson rematch, but what happened this weekend has rendered it virtually meaningless.
While Johnson was slogging home second to a previously unknown German with a time of 10.41 seconds in Oslo, Norway, Lewis was roaring home second with a time that equaled his second-best and was beaten only by Leroy Burrell's world record of 9.90 in the Mobil/USA Championships.
Johnson, who ran 10.65 and 10.54 in his only other 100s since the suspension ended, is palpably no match for top sprinters. That means Lewis' only true rival now is Burrell, who has not yet been invited to run in Lille.
"The way it looks now, Ben may never compete well again," Burrell said.
Which makes the Lewis-Johnson rematch much ado about nothing but money.
"I think the Ben vs. Carl thing really hasn't been perpetuated by me," Lewis said. "It's the media, the public and the meet promoters.
"Leroy is running really well now. We can say the two greatest clean athletes of all time ran here. I hope people say, 'Let's focus on the athletes who are clean and who are doing it now.' "
Then Lewis paused, realizing he couldn't have it both ways.
"Of course," he said, "let's do that after the two match races. We can still have that. I need a new car."
He will certainly be able to afford one with the appearance fee, estimated as high as $250,000, the Lille promoter is paying both Lewis and Johnson. The promoter is now trying to lure Burrell into the race.
"It's strictly a matter of fair compensation," said Joe Douglas of the Santa Monica Track Club, who manages both Burrell and Lewis.
Douglas said Thursday that he was not asking for Burrell the same fee offered Lewis and Johnson. But the ante went up Friday, when Burrell beat Lewis for the third time in their last four races.
"I should be there," Burrell said, "but I can't control what others want to do with their meets and their money. I'm not going to
scream and holler and have everyone call me a crybaby."
The three will meet Aug. 12 in Malmo, Sweden, and, if Johnson improves, possibly the 100-meter final at the World Championships on Aug. 25 in Tokyo. Burrell and Lewis made the U.S. team for that meet based on their top-three finishes Friday.
While Burrell's performance (including a second-place finish in the 200) further certified his standing as the world's fastest human, Lewis proved he still has two remarkable legs to stand on.
"I've had to deal with a lot of people doubting me," Lewis said.
In only his third race of the outdoor season, Lewis seemed no less impressive than he was eight years ago, when he had won his first major 100-meter title in the 1983 World Championships. In his first official long-jump competition of this season, he reaffirmed himself as the greatest ever in that event.
Lewis says that he is motivated by pressure, and that was evident in Saturday's long jump final, when Lewis leaped 28 feet, 4 1/4 inches on his last attempt to take the victory from Mike Powell (28-3 3/4 ) and extend his 10-year winning streak to 65 meets. Lewis also had three other jumps over 28 feet, his best series of legal (non-wind-aided) jumps ever.
There is a tendency to downplay Lewis' brilliant jumping because his attempts to break Bob Beamon's 23-year-old world record (29-2 1/2 ) have been all talk. Lewis' best remains 28-10 1/4 , although in 1982 he did have what some have regarded as a 30-footer. But it was never measured after a questionable takeoff foul was called.
Lewis has won six Olympic gold medals and six World Championship gold medals in two tries at each event. And yet his acceptance as one of America's heroes remains overdue because he has been so overdone, so patently manufactured, so surreal.
This year's version of Lewis has hair by Stendhal -- dyed red earlier, now coming back to black. He appears in ever-more flamboyant clothing. There have been racing suits so naked-looking that some thought they were designed by Robert Mapplethorpe. This weekend, there were warm-up suits styled as double-breasted tuxedos, with velvet piping on the jacket and the one-piece jumpsuit with a mock turtleneck top.
They were all of Lewis' design, which makes it hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.