INTERVIEW: Carl Lewis turns 50: 'It's kind of starting over again'
By Ignacio Naya Jul 2, 2011, 20:10 GMT
Madrid - About to turn 50 Friday, legendary former athlete Carl Lewis says he is ready for a new start - far removed from the track and also from his old wish of becoming an actor, he now hopes to find a place in US politics.
'It's kind of starting over again,' he told the German Press Agency dpa in an interview.
The former sprinter and long-jumper said in April that he would stand for the New Jersey Senate as a Democratic Party candidate. The most successful athlete in the history of the Olympics and one of the world's most successful athletes more generally is turning his eye to local politics.
'I see there's a need to inspire our kids,' he told dpa.
Lewis sees Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States, as a reference, even if Obama's rise did not directly motivate him to run for the state Senate.
'To say that I was inspired by him, absolutely yes.'
'(Obama) sends a great message for a lot of young African-Americans, and Hispanics,' he said. 'It's broader than just being the president: it's the image.'
'A lot of kids are going to grow up from 5, 6, 7 up to 16, 17, 18 seeing this man in that position. That will tell everyone that anyone can become president.'
Lewis himself, however, stresses that he has no wish to reach the White House.
'That's not the direction I want to go,' he said.
'I will not be trying to run for president in my lifetime, I can guarantee you that,' Lewis laughed.
Lewis' sports career was also an inspiration for many. He won 10 Olympic medals, including nine golds, and he is an eight-time world champion. In the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics, aged 23, he matched Jesse Owens' feat in Berlin 1936 by winning the 100m, the 200m, the 4x100 m relay and the long jump.
'(Owens was) probably a driving force in what I believe in, as an athlete and as a person,' said Lewis, who still remembers the event in Los Angeles as the best time of his life.
'I'm running down the track, the whole world's looking at me. I'm winning races, my mother and father on the stands. Every single day I came home, because I'd rented a home that the entire family stayed in. And everyday I could just look in their eyes and just see the disbelief that their little baby was doing that.'
The third of four children, Lewis was born in the US state of Alabama into a sporting family. Tall and slender, he became famous for his elegant, graceful running, a style that made him not only the best but also the most popular man in the sport.
'I'm still very competitive. I love people and having relationships and friends,' the retired athlete noted.
When asked about the differences between the young sprinter and the middle-aged politician, Lewis has few doubts.
'I'm more mature, I look at life differently and I think I make better decisions based on the experience that I had in life.'
His two great rivals on the track were compatriot Mike Powell and Canadian Ben Johnson. Powell took away Lewis's long-jump world record on an unforgettable evening in the Tokyo 1991 World Championships, but Lewis still remembers him as 'a good friend and a tremendous athlete.'
Johnson starred in the biggest doping scandal in the history of the Olympics. He tested positive for steroids, allowing Lewis to get the gold medal in the 100 m in Seoul 1988, to become the first man ever to win back-to-back Olympic golds in the discipline. Johnson always claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy.
'I hope that he finds peace some day, with himself,' Lewis says.
In 2003, Lewis himself was revealed to have tested positive for banned substances before the 1988 Olympics. However, he was cleared after claiming that he took these substances inadvertently.
Lewis retired following the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. He then launched a career in public relations and an unsuccessful attempt to become an actor. In 2009, he became a goodwill ambassador for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
'Of course I'm not the sprinter I was,' he admitted.
Still, he remains fit enough.
'Physically I feel like I can do anything.'
After battling arthritis for years, Lewis has 'no idea' of where he would stop the clock for the 100m these days.
'I have no clue what I can run. And honestly, I've no interest,' he said.
He watches track and field from afar, and he is pessimistic about the way the sport has headed over the past 20 years.
'I would love to see the sport better, but it's declining.'
'The athletes, in my era, were more focused on building the sport. Now they just want to take from it. They're part of this culture that we live in now of the social media. It's about 'me,' and I think the athletes should say it's about 'we'.'