Shoehorned in, sweating out Carl Foot has mouthpiece in souled-out show

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 25, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

BARCELONA SPAIN — BARCELONA, Spain -- I am standing inside the belly of the beast, sweating like a fountain while awaiting the arrival of track and field star Carl Lewis.

Hundreds of reporters are trying to squeeze into an enclosed alcove half the size of the Orioles' clubhouse at Camden Yards. The Olympic spirit is everywhere.

Cameramen from Japan battle photographers from New Zealand. The temperature rises past the human boiling point. The air fills with odors from nearly every continent.

Why not hold the news conference in the air-conditioned press center? Because these are the Corporate Olympics, and Lewis' shoe sponsor, Mizuno, wants to put on a show.

Lewis competes for the United States, but Mizuno is his true team. You can't argue with the system, for it ensures the presence of majorstars. But at times, these things get ridiculous.

This is one of those times.

Here I am, wearing the trusty beeper given to all Times Mirror employess, and no one dares rescue me as I ponder suffocation.

Mizuno representatives hand out tiny fans. The Japanese cameramen jostle furiously. The New Zealand photographer mutters, "They can hold this in a bloody stadium."

The funny part is, Mizuno obviously is trying to score a major public-relations coup by revealing the shoes Lewis will wear while trying to win his third straight Olympic long jump.

It's backfiring, to say the least.

Lewis' coach, Tom Tellez, announces that Carl is late because he's working out with the U.S. 4 x 100-meter relay team, for which he qualified only as a reserve.

The Mizuno representatives go into Plan B, and start handing out complimentary sodas and beers. It's a nice gesture, but rather like fighting a forest fire with a garden hose.

The Japanese bought Hollywood and Rockefeller Center, but they can't have me. I take a beer, but generously turn it over to a man who appears in desperate need of revival.

He's from New Zealand, of course.

He hasn't had a cold one in, oh, about 20 minutes.

Anyway, Carl is still not in the building, a semi-castle called the Pueblo Espanol. I step outside for a shot of frigid, 85-degree air.

Uh-oh, here come the Mizuno people.

It's a press release!

Words, pictures, charts:

The new shoes!

The release begins, "These shoes are designed for maximum durability and leverage while minimizing weight to help accelerate the approach run."

I can't help it.

I'm spellbound.

The shoes, it seems, are 34 percent lighter than the ones Lewis used at the 1991 World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo.

"The central part of the shoe, a bent, is made in a hexagonal, honey-comb style," the release continues, breathlessly.

"As a result, this part became lighter and stronger. It also increased stability and leverage at the time of taking off."

Now I'm dying for more.

Where's Carl?

A tiny Japanese woman makes the scene.

"Just arrived!" she shouts. "Just arrived!"

"Remember, he's just had a workout," Tellez warns over the microphone. "He's probably pretty warm and tired."

Well, he's about to get warmer. In fact, he's about to discover how Mick Jagger felt at Altamont. He's 30 minutes late, and he's trying to fight through the mob.

The news conference begins, amid much shouting.

"White shirt!" someone yells. "Sit down!"

Lewis, wearing a multicolored warm-up suit, is seated next to Mizuno president Masato -- what else? -- Mizuno. Ever the executive, Mizuno quickly gets down to business.

He holds up his new product.

The shouting renews.

"Start the press conference!"

"Put down the shoes!"

Lewis opens with an apology, then answers every question. He failed to make the Olympic team in either the 100 or 200 meters, and as a six-time gold-medal winner, he understands the fuss.

All over Barcelona, his face appears on billboards for another of his sponsors, Panasonic. For all the indifference he encounters in the U.S., he's obviously one of the biggest stars in the world.

We know, because Mizuno says so, but enough of this reverie. Nike is holding a joint news conference for Michael Jordan and Sergei Bubka.

Gotta go.

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