Lewis only bulks up on medals, but still he doesn't clean up with fans

August 07, 1992|By Dan Shaughnessy | Dan Shaughnessy,Boston Globe

BARCELONA, Spain -- I don't believe in the Roadrunner anymore. I loved watching his cartoons as a kid, but now I think he must have used performance-enhancing drugs.

Same goes for Superman. Clark Kent was on the juice, no doubt about it.

I have been at the Olympics for two weeks. It is a land of metal detectors and drug tests. Nobody is assumed to be clean. Everybody is suspect.

Last night was a great night for American track. The field wasn't bad either.

Americans won four gold, two silver and two bronze medals. It was a Star-Spangled Banner night, led by Carl Lewis winning his seventh gold in the long jump.

You can make a pretty good argument for Lewis as the greatest athlete in the history of track. But he is just so darned hard to like. Maybe when he's old and no longer a threat, maybe we'll like him then. That's how it worked for Sally Field.

Lewis edged Mike Powell with a leap of 28 feet 5 1/2 inches, or 8.67 meters, on his first of six attempts.

Powell, the world record-holder, saved his best for last, but came up 1 1/4 inches short.

Overall, it was a fairly boring competition. These guys came to Barcelona talking about jumping 30 or 31 feet, but Lewis' winning jump was a full 9 inches shy of the Olympic performance by which all others forever will be measured.

Bob Beamon's world record was wiped out by Powell in Tokyo last year, but 24 years after his biblical leap, Beamon still holds the Olympic record. Good.

In Mexico City in 1968, Beamon bettered the world record by almost two feet with a leap of 29-2 1/2 . "Beamonesque" is an official track and field adjective.

Lewis chased this magic mark for more than a decade, only to see Powell go 29-4 1/2 last year.

This is why last night was supposed to be Lewis-Powell (isn't he a Supreme Court justice?) night. It was the Russell-Chamberlain of the long jump.

But in the end, it wasn't very exciting. Lewis displayed little emotion when he first learned he'd won. Then he grabbed a flag and went into his victory lap. Unfortunately, he was waving to the masses during a 5,000-meter heat. Pretty boorish. He was showered with shrill whistles -- the European boos.

Lewis has won seven gold medals since 1984 and tomorrow he goes for No. 8 in the men's 400-meter relay. He is worshiped in Europe and Japan. In America, we greet his medals the way we greet television commercials and junk mail. We glance at it, and toss it aside.

Carl Lewis is like canned laughter. The sound is there, but there's something insincere about it. This is too bad because there is every evidence that Lewis plays by the rules. His is a clean sample in a sea of suspect specimens.

While Lewis and Powell were failing to erase Beamon from the Olympic books, women runners were just about scratching each other's eyes out at a winner's news conference. Gwen Torrence, who last week threw the drug net over people who finished ahead of her in the 100 meters, was wearing gold (200 meters) and dodging arrows from some of the runners she indicted. Naturally this scene called for the ubiquitous and insufferable coach/husband/microphone-hog Bobby Kersee to give everybody a lecture.

Sick of the drug accusations yet? Brace yourself. There will be more.

There were other spectacular sights at the oval. Gail Devers, who won a gold last Saturday (a gold tainted by Torrence), was on her way to another in the 100-meter hurdles, but she stumbled on the final hurdle and came across the finish line on her face to finish fifth.

Paraskevi Patoulidou of Greece was the beneficiary of Devers' spill and she melted the crowd with an emotional, heartfelt victory lap. It was very un-Carl like. It was also very nice. The Greeks invented this festival, but they rarely win medals anymore. Patoulidou was the first Greek woman to medal in track since 1912.

America's Kevin Young set a world record (why do they always say "new" world record?) with a time of 46.78 seconds in the

400-meter hurdles. Had he not bothered to celebrate before the race was over, Young might have set a record that would last into the next century.

Finally, there was the decathlon and our boy Dave Johnson (grinding it out with a stress fracture in his right ankle) settled for the bronze.

Dan vs. Dave. Settled in Barcelona. Dan ends up in the broadcast booth and Dave is a wounded runner-up to a Czech and a Spaniard. It turns out that the Reebok ad campaign should have been Robert (Zmelik) vs. Antonio (Penalver).

The decathlon winner traditionally is dubbed "The World's Greatest Athlete." Cynics like myself wonder about this. Is being good at many things better than being the best at one thing? Sammy Davis Jr. always was known as the world's greatest entertainer, but is that just because he could sing better than the dancers and dance better than the singers?

Come to think of it, I wonder if Sammy Davis Jr. used performance-enhancing drugs? Maybe we should consider erasing his records. I never could stand "Candy Man."

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