Born: 1 July 1961
At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Carl Lewis was attempting to do what no man had done since Jesse Owens – win a gold medal in 100m, 200m, 4X100m relay and the long jump. He turned down an endorsement deal with Coca-Cola waiting for bigger offers after the games. Lewis won the 100m in 9.99s beating the silver medallist by 0.2s. He won the long jump even more easily, passing four of the six allotted jumps. He created a new Olympic record while winning his third gold in 200m. And then the American team won the 4X100m relay in a world record time of 37.83s with Lewis running his split in 8.94s. Lewis had achieved what he had set to do but instead of receiving more endorsement deals, even his existing offer with Nike was dropped.
Bob Beamon had set a record of 8.90m in the long jump at the 1968 Olympics – a record that no one had come close to. Carl Lewis is probably the greatest long jump athlete that the world has ever seen and hence the crowd expected him to come close to or break that freakish record. But while Bob Beamon’s record had come at high altitude air of Mexico City and a following wind of 2m/s, Los Angeles is at sea level and the wind that day was swirling menacingly around the stadium. Carl didn’t want to take any chances as he still had two more events to compete and so he didn’t take four jumps. This led to the entire crowd booing him.
Add to that Carl hardly made friends and the other athletes thought he was arrogant. Things became worse for him when there was a rumor that he was gay. Carl’s love for fine china and his colorful clothes made many people believe that rumor. All this made advertisers stay away from him.
Carl continued breaking records and won 6 more Olympic medals, five of them gold. His 65 consecutive victories in the long jump achieved over a span of 10 years is one of the sport’s longest undefeated streaks. His performances might not have got him endorsements but due to them he was named “Olympian of the Century” by the American sports magazine Sports Illustrated and was voted “Sportsman of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee.