Lewis makes last jump for glory Moves from 15th place to first on final leap to delay Olympic farewell

'I know I can go 28 feet'

Legend overshadows U.S. gold in high jump

Atlanta Olympics

July 29, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — ATLANTA -- Olympic icon Carl Lewis still has that certain something. Call it charisma. Call it a flair for the dramatic. Call it one more chance to bask in the Olympic spotlight.

Lewis called on something deep inside himself last night and provided one of the most exciting moments of the Olympic track and field competition with a last-chance long jump that took him from 15th to first place in his preliminary group.

The stage was set for his exit from Olympic competition. He appeared to be well out of range of tonight's long jump final, especially after he ran through his second of three attempts in the preliminary round. He had one last jump to qualify . . . and he sailed 27 feet, 2 1/2 inches to qualify ahead of everyone.

"I went from struggling to make the final round to being very confident about my chances [tonight]," Lewis said.

His final jump even overshadowed two American medal performances. Charles Austin of Texas won a gold medal and set an Olympic record by clearing the bar at 7 feet, 10 inches in the high jump and Wyoming's Lance Deal won a silver medal in the hammer throw, becoming the first U.S. athlete to medal in that event in 40 years.

Both were uplifting performances, but Austin's victory was no surprise and Deal's event does not exactly capture the imagination of American sports fans.

Lewis is another story. He's a lot of other stories. He was the dominant personality in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, winning the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and being part of the victorious 4x100 relay. He came back in 1988 to win the 100 and the long jump at Seoul, and earned his third straight long jump gold, in addition to another relay gold, at Barcelona in 1992.

Now, he suddenly looks like a candidate for four, even though he came into this Olympics looking like more of a human interest story than a real threat to upend American teammate Joe Greene, who finished just behind Lewis with a jump of 27-2, and Mike Powell, who qualified first in the other preliminary group at 26-11.

Powell still has to be considered the favorite. He's the world-record holder and Greene has been right on his heels since they finished second and third behind Lewis in Barcelona. But Lewis proved he still has something left -- maybe a lot more than anyone imagined.

"I have a lot of confidence now," Lewis said. "I just have to go out and jump at the beginning the way I did at the end tonight. I don't think that jump will win, but every time I've led after the Olympic qualifying round, I've won.

"I know I can go 28 feet [today]. I have to feel like I have a lot more distance, because I didn't even go off the board on my last jump."

That's true. He was just trying to make sure he didn't foul. He had jumped 26 feet and a quarter on his first try and then pulled up on the second, leaving himself with no margin for error on the final attempt. Foul and your Olympic career is over. Foul and you cry alone.

Somebody asked him afterward if it occurred to him on the runway that he might be about to make the last jump of his career.

"That thought came through, but it came through a little different," he said. "The thought was, I didn't want this to be my last jump in the Olympics.

"I want to go out with my best effort. I feel that my best effort is as good as anybody's. I came in with confidence that I could do well at this meet and that confidence has been boosted."

Lewis faced the same challenge as swimming star Janet Evans last week. She was trying to make magic in her last Olympic appearance, but struggled to qualify in her final event and finished sixth in the 800-meter freestyle. That's not the way Lewis wants to go out -- that much was obvious last night.

In the high jump competition, Austin had missed on two straight jumps at 7 feet, 9 1/4 inches when he decided it was time to move the bar -- higher.

"That's how I am," Austin said. "I try to get that height in my mind before I even go out and jump. I don't consider it playing poker."

Whatever you want to call it, Austin cleared the next height for an Olympic record of 7-10 and became the first American since Dick Fosbury in 1968 to win the high jump.

"I was not concentrating on win, win, win," Austin said. "I just wanted to have fun."

Austin had an easier time after Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, the defending gold medalist and only man to clear 8 feet, failed on three straight attempts at 7-7 1/4 . Sotomayor, hampered by a sore left ankle, wound up in a tie for 11th.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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