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Monday, June 27, 2022

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Wednesday Rewind: Lewis springboards from UH to the national stage


Carl Lewis

While at Houston, Carl Lewis competed in multiple events, including the 4×100 relay, long jump and 55 meter dash, and captured six NCAA titles while competing for the Cougars. | Courtesy of Houstonian, 1981

When you have a sports program as decorated and illustrious as here at UH, you can expect there to be numerous standout performers and achievements.

Among those notable few, there is also an upper echelon where the most distinguished people reside.

The man the International Olympic Committee named “Sportsman of the Century” and Sports Illustrated named “Olympian of the Century” belongs in that upper echelon, not only in discussion of UH athletics, but among the best athletes the United States has ever produced.

After breaking the national high school long jump record, young Carl Lewis obviously invoked interest from hundreds of colleges.

But he decided to attend the University of Houston because men’s head track coach, Tom Tellez ensured him UH would hone his skills.

This, compared to other schools looking to poach in on Lewis’ talents and earn acclaim for themselves, left a resounding impression on Lewis.

“Houston was the only school that told me what they could do to advance me, which is what the college experience should be,” Lewis said. “Everyone else was saying, ‘Look at what you could do for our college.

Lewis arrived on campus in the fall of 1979 and immediately got to work.

While training, Coach Tellez taught Lewis how to use proper technique in his jumps.

This allowed Lewis to compete in both track and field events and do so without pain in his knees, a burden that plagued him in high school.

In his sophomore year, Lewis qualified for the Olympics in long jump and as a member of the 4×100 meter relay team.

He wouldn’t participate because of the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics but continued to improve.

In 1981, he was named the top U.S. amateur athlete after becoming just the second person in NCAA history to win the 100 meters and long jump at the college championships.

The first person to achieve that accomplishment was Lewis’ idol, Jesse Owens.

During his tenure at UH, Lewis would go on to win six NCAA titles and still holds the school records for the indoor 55-meter dash (6.07) and both indoor and outdoor long jump records at 8.56m and 8.62m.

However, it was obvious from the beginning, Lewis was destined for much more.

Four years after the disappointment of not competing in the Moscow Olympics came the Olympics in Los Angeles.

Lewis finally got his chance to do what he did best with U.S.A. on his chest.

He was dominant. In the 100 meters, Lewis set an Olympic record beating the closest competitor by a record eight feet.

He would earn three more gold medals that summer: in the long jump, the 200m, and the 4×100 relay.

Lewis went on to compete in three more Olympic Games: the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea; the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain; and the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

In all, Lewis won 10 total medals and nine golds in Olympic competition.

He also added eight World Championship gold medals to his impressive tally of career accolades.

Lewis’ athleticism was so transcendent and rare, the Dallas Cowboys drafted him, without Lewis ever playing a down of college football, in the 12th round of the 1984 NFL draft.

Two months later, the Chicago Bulls selected him in the 10th round of the NBA draft.

And it all started when that self-proclaimed “skinny kid” walked on campus 36 years ago.

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