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Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sports

Carl Lewis is still the face of track and field


For many, including sprinter Jermaine Holt, who has been training with Carl Lewis since 2018, when "you think track and field, you still think Carl Lewis." | Courtesy of UH athletics

For many, including senior sprinter Jermaine Holt, who has been training with Carl Lewis since 2018, when “you think track and field, you still think Carl Lewis.” | Courtesy of UH athletics

In a brightly lit stadium on a summer night in Tokyo, Carl Lewis and seven of the fastest men in the world stood side by side surrounded by thousands of onlookers when the shot rang out.

It was go time.

On that Sunday during the 1991 World Championships in the Japanese capital, Lewis ran a 9.86 100-meter dash, beating the previous world record set by American sprinter Leroy Burrell.

Lewis, a Houston alumnus and now assistant coach of the Cougars under head coach Burrell, represented the United States and UH in four Olympic games. He has amassed 10 Olympic medals and 10 World Championship medals.

“This past August, it would have been 40 years since I walked on campus in Houston,” Lewis said in an interview with KRIV (Channel 26). “It’s obviously been my home. Everything that’s great that has happened to me as an adult has happened in Houston.”

Now, Lewis is set to be recognized in January with an induction into the Houston Sports Hall of Fame, about 22 years after he was inducted into the UH Athletics Hall of Honor in 1998.

“I mean, being in the Hall of Honor at U of H and now to be in the Hall of Fame at Houston with some of the greatest people in world history, not just the city of Houston,” Lewis said, “I’m really, really honored.”

He began running for Houston in 1979 under head coach Tom Tellez and qualified for the 1980 Olympics but could not compete due to the Olympic Boycott.

Lewis won nine Olympic gold medals and one silver medal in his career. He dominated the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles by earning gold medals in all four of his categories: the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4×100-meter relay and long jump.

Then 35 years old, Lewis won his last gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where he surpassed Mike Powell and Joe Greene, who were among the best long jumpers of the time. This was Lewis’ fourth consecutive gold medal in the long jump category.

Lewis retired from professional track and field the next year, and he has since turned to coaching. He is in his fourth season as a full-time assistant for the Cougars.

“You can definitely tell he’s very passionate about track and field still,” said senior sprinter Jermaine Holt. “He still loves the sport.”

Holt has trained with Lewis since joining the program in 2018. While Lewis primarily coaches, Holt said he also has a lot of wisdom to share with his aspiring athletes.

“Every track athlete’s dream is we want to go professional for this, and one thing he did teach me was there is a lot more to becoming professional rather than just running fast,” Holt said. “He introduced the idea that opened my mind up to how I can better brand myself as not just an athlete but as an individual.”

During his time as a professional athlete, Lewis’ performance brought a lot of attention to the sport, Holt said, and he believes that with the awards he has accumulated, Lewis is more than deserving to be recognized in the Hall of Fame.

“On top of what he has done for the sport, he also has given back because he’s still coaching, he still travels, speaks,” Holt said. “He tries to still push track to the next level in terms of publicity and how the sport is viewed.”

For many in the sport, Lewis left his mark. For Holt, there’s a lot to live up to considering Lewis’ legacy.

“He’s not even running anymore, but when you think track and field, you still think Carl Lewis,” Holt said. “So, it made me really think about myself and figure out what I can do within this sport to reach that same status as an athlete.

“Basically, he set quite a high standard.”

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