Lewis' 10th isn't the goal for relay team

August 03, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

With the Olympics almost over, now might be a good time for some reflections and observations about the Games. I'll start with a controversial subject that has caused much debate the past few days.

Should Carl Lewis be awarded a spot on the U.S. Olympic 4 x 100-meter relay team so he can have a shot at earning a record-setting 10th gold medal?

Does Donald Trump eat Spam?

On Wednesday the incomparable Lewis -- no spring chicken at 35 -- did the seemingly impossible, surging from behind to capture his fourth Olympic gold medal in the long jump. Almost immediately the gaggle of armchair track coaches (also known as sports journalists) began dropping not-so-subtle hints that U.S. Olympic track coach Erv Hunter should add Lewis to the relay team.

Hunter, to his credit, has kept his head and let reason prevail. Lewis is not on the relay team, Hunter insisted. The members of his team have actually been to practices -- sprinting, passing batons and such -- and it wouldn't be fair to bump any of them just so that Lewis can add another gold medal to his collection. Only if one of the team members is injured will Lewis be added, Hunter proclaimed.

Wouldn't you know it? As of yesterday, Leroy Burrell, a friend of Lewis' who is on the relay team, has suddenly developed a severe case of Achilles' tendinitis. The way is now open for Lewis to run the relay, even though he's not an alternate.

In a wire story reported yesterday, Jeff Williams, who is an alternate, implied Lewis will be selected for the team, probably at Williams' expense.

"I have no weight," the Associated Press wire story quoted Williams as saying. "You know what I'm talking about. Nobody weighs as much as Carl. He's a couple of tons. Everybody else is small change."

So there we have reason No. 1 for denying Lewis a slot on the relay team: simple fairness. Here's a guy who has nine -- count 'em, nine -- gold medals. A 10th will indeed break the record, but does Carl really need another gold? What about the other guys on the relay team who don't even have one medal and now have a chance to get one? Is it fair to deny them the opportunity for the further glorification of Carl Lewis?

These questions are rhetorical. The answers should be obvious. But for anybody with lingering doubts about whether Lewis should join the relay team, there are yet more reasons.

Merit: Lewis didn't earn a spot on the team. Sprinter Jon Drummond, a relay team member, expressed it eloquently and succinctly when he pointed out that Lewis finished "butt-naked last" in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Quality: Adding Lewis may not give the United States its best relay team. His butt-naked last finish at the trials aside, Lewis has not practiced with the team. That might not have been a problem 30 years ago, when U.S. teams regularly smoked the rest of the world in this competition. But these days we have stiff competition from Jamaicans, Nigerians, Brits and the Russkies. The slightest hitch in a baton pass might cost us the gold medal.

Mental health: I can't speak for all Americans, but I go a little bonkers when the United States loses an Olympic sprint relay. I figure the events are ours. In 1988, the U.S. 4 x 100-meter relay team was eliminated early when one of the guys dropped the baton. To say I was upset would not do justice to my feelings. I went totally ballistic.

But Jeff Williams gave the most compelling reason for keeping the relay team as is. Given a choice between seeing Williams or Lewis on the team, I'd choose Williams. Somebody has to look out for the little guys, the "small change" and the lighter weights of the world.

Another hotly debated Olympic matter is which American athlete should be on the Wheaties box. (I'm not kidding. You'd be surprised at the passions it arouses. OK, so it doesn't quite match the intellectual level of the debates between the Federalists and anti-Federalists. But then again, it doesn't try to.)

Some names mentioned have been Carl Lewis, sprinter Michael Johnson, decathlete Dan O'Brien and gymnast Kerri Strug.

Could this be more of a no-brainer? Lewis is out, for trying to Bogart his way onto the 4 x 100 sprint relay team. Johnson achieved an unprecedented double -- winning the 200- and 400-meter races and shattering his own world record along the way. O'Brien set a record in winning the decathlon, but both he and Johnson did what they were favored to do.

The choice has to be the unheralded Strug, who sprinted to a clutch vault and stuck her landing on an injured leg to win a team gold medal for the United States. This kid can be my hero any day.

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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