Bob Beamon's 29 ft. 2 1/2-inch long jump was once thought to be the most untouchable record in track and field. Carl Lewis, though, is fast closing in on Beamon's mark and now considers 30 feet within reach.
To prove the point, he practically sailed out of the pit here at the National Sports Festival with a jump of 28-9. That was 5 1/2 inches longer than Lewis had ever gone, the best ever on United States soil, and the second best in history.
Lewis, of course, arrived in Indianapolis with credentials in impeccable order. Several months ago, in fact, he had visited the same city to pick up the Sullivan Award as the country's finest amateur athlete.
In winning the nationwide voting for this annual honor, Lewis beat out an impressive array of contenders including wrestling champion Chris Campbell, sprinter Evelyn Ashford, figure skater Scott Hamilton, swimmer Mary T. Meagher, and diver Greg Louganis. Perhaps even more significantly, his selection ended a much-criticized drought of more than two decades since the last previous black recipient, Wilma Rudolph in 1961.
Lewis was a very popular choice for the award, and indeed, when you look at his record for 1981 it is difficult to see how the voters could have picked anyone else. The 21-year-old native of Willingboro, N.J. has not only established himself as the world's No. 1 long jumper, but is among the top sprinters - a true double threat in the mold of the late Jesse Owens, with whom he is frequently compared.
Representing the University of Houston last year, Lewis became the first person ever to win both a track and a field event at the NCAA indoor championships and the first since Owens to score such a double in the NCAA outdoor championships, then achieved a similar sweep in The Athletics Congress national championships. His best time in the 100 meters (10 seconds flat) is the best ever without the aid of high altitude; equals the third fastest in history anywhere; and is only 500th of a second slower than the world record set by Jim Hines at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
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