Coronavirus Sports Track & Field

Carl Lewis: uncertainty of coronavirus pandemic working against student-athletes

Carl Lewis amassed six NCAA titles while competing at UH. | File Photo

Carl Lewis amassed six NCAA titles while competing at UH. | File Photo

Houston alumnus, track coach and 10-time Olympic medalist Carl Lewis is no stranger to athletics events being disrupted by forces larger than sports.

In 1980, Lewis qualified for the Olympic track team that was set to compete in Moscow that summer, but the United States’ boycott of those games halted his Olympic aspirations for four more years and left a “what if?” asterisk in his heart, along with all the other qualified American athletes who never got to compete for the highest achievement possible in their respective sport.

Nearly 40 years later, Lewis recognizes both parallels and disparities between 1980 and what athletes across the globe are currently experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I went through a similar situation when I was a freshman at UH,” Lewis said of the ‘80 Olympics. “We knew that it was canceled and it wasn’t coming back, and that we would have to wait four more years. I think in the beginning, initially it’s better for (the athletes). It’s easier for them. But it’s going to be harder in the long run.”

Lewis, who is in his seventh year as an assistant coach with Houston’s track and field organization, says the program is preparing student athletes as if they are off this year, but will be back in 2021.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “(COVID-19) is not going to be eradicated next year, so how are we going to manage it? Let’s just be honest with ourselves. Because it’s not. You know it. I know it. Understanding that and starting from that spot, we can now say, ‘How can we fix this? How can we make it better? How can we get through this?’”

For athletes everywhere, Lewis says it is important in a situation like this one to play both sides of the coin and think about how both collegiate and professional athletics will look like in the future.

“I think if we can’t have the Olympics next year, then it’s just not going to happen,” Lewis said. “That would be pretty devastating to a lot of the athletes, but what I am also trying to do is sort of get their heads together about what the new normal is going to be.”

That “new normal” is something Lewis says will take effect across the board.

“Every sport will be different forever,” he said. “College sports will be different forever. I want to get (student athletes) to understand what the situation will be after this, so they can be more relaxed about it all. If something good happens, then it’s exciting, but if something bad happens they’re prepared.”

The University’s track and field team did not have the opportunity to formally conclude their 2020 season at either of the NCAA’s Indoor or Outdoor Championships, but still had a season with several high points, including a sweep of the American Athletic Conference Indoor Championships.

As Lewis continues to be in contact with current Houston athletes, as well as those who are still training post-collegiately, he emphasizes that dealing with the uncertainty of what is to come will be the most important aspect of training.

“It’s a big challenge for each of them, because they just simply don’t know what the future is going to be,” Lewis said.

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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