Carlton Frederick Lewis (Birmingham, USA, 1961), one of the legendary figures of athletics, took his first international steps at San Juan 79´ Pan American Games. At nineteen, Carl was already a part of the USA Olympic team. However, his country’s boycott of Moscow 1980 Olympic Games prevented him from competing. He finally debuted at Los Angeles ’84 home team, where he jumped to stardom winning 4 gold medals, in 100 and 200 meters, long jump, and 4x100 relay, earning the title of “Son of the wind”. It was during LA ’84, and with the eyes of the world set on him, that he matched Jesse Owens’ huge achievement at Berlin ’36 Games, who, in the prelude to the Second World War, had done his part in front of Hitler.
In the following Games, Seoul ’88 and Barcelona ’92, being one of the most recognized athletes in the world, Lewis consolidated his medal count. In Seoul, he was the first athlete to achieve first place in the long jump event in two consecutive Games, while also participating of a controversial victory in 100-meter dash. The Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who had won the gold medal, was disqualified after an anti-doping test result showing steroid use. A world scandal that only increased Lewis’ fame, despite being the most harmed by Johnson’s cheating.
In 1991, he beat the world record in 100-meter dash with a 9.86-second mark. In Barcelona ’92, he got his third gold medal in long jump, asserting his domination over the event during the 80s. In his last Games at Atlanta ’96, he was not able to qualify for the Track & Field sprint events during time trials, and in a controversial decision, he was not included in the US relay team. However, he achieved fourth place in long jump, the ninth in his distinguished Olympic career, a mark that other athletes will have a hard time matching in the history of Track & Field.
Carl Lewis could never beat Bob Beamon’s record in long jump, those incredible 8.90 meters in Mexico ’68. That achievement fell upon another USA athlete, Mike Powell, during the Tokyo 1991 world championship. This event is considered as the best jump sequence in the history of long jump, featuring Powell and Lewis, the latter who won the silver medal.
Carl Lewis, despite being considered a cold and calculating athlete, was always willing to represent his country in all the required competitions. And it is because of this that he had his debut at San Juan 1979 Pan American Games. Lewis remembers from that event: “It was my first international competition; I was 17 years old. My coach told me “Go”. It was a pleasant time for me. My mother competed in the first Pan American Games, in Argentina. It was fantastic”. In San Juan he won the bronze medal in long jump with 8.13 meters. Eight years later at Indianapolis ’87, he would set the 8.75 m record mark that remains until today as the Pan American Games record, while also winning the gold in 4x100 relay.
Carl Lewis, currently a coach, visited Lima during the 2019 Pan American Games. Five athletes were under his tutelage during the event. Lewis was one of the greatest attractions of Lima 2019, gathering a large press in each appearance. “We need to explain to our athletes that the Pan American Games are huge. It is a relevant opportunity for them”, he assured along Leroy Burrell, his sprinting partner in the 80s, who was also present.
Lewis left several lessons on his visit to the Peruvian capital, and powerful messages to the athletes: “It’s not about winning a medal but representing your country in the best possible way so they can be proud of you. I won in the 1987 Pan American Games, eight years after the first time and many of those who were in 1979 did not come back. They need to understand that you must give it your best, because you never know if there will be a next time. Don’t take things for granted”.