Carl Lewis has met the man he is chasing and seen film of his awesome jump. After 14 years, it is a little grainy. But after this weekend, it no longer looks like trick photography.
"I've got more distance in me," said Lewis, a 21-year-old long jumper who landed this weekend just 5 1/2 inches short of the world record Bob Beamon set in the 1968 Olympics. "That record could go at any time."
The assault on Beamon's record has as much appeal to followers of track and field as the assault on the four-minute mile. When Beamon jumped 29 feet 2 1/2 inches in Mexico City, 28 feet still was considered a leap of faith. Beamon's jump went so far beyond the limits of what was considered possible, some experts predicted it never would be matched.
This weekend, before 13,000 record-hungry fans at the National Sports Festival, with cameras recording his every step, Lewis not only was flirting with history, he was talking about what would come after.
"The outer limit?" Lewis was asked. "I hope it's 40 feet."
Lewis seems an ideal candidate for both the physical demands of legend busting and the glare of public attention that it brings. On track, he is his sport's most exciting athlete. He is ranked No. 1 in the world in both the long jump and the 100-meter dash. Last year he won the Sullivan Award as the country's outstanding amateur athlete. In the next year he could conceivably break both Beamon's record and one nearly as revered, the 100-meter dash mark of 9.95 set by Jimmy Hines.
What has impressed fans in this conservative, Midwestern city as much as his fleetness of foot is the way he handles himself off the track. Lewis appears bright, articulate and confident without being cocky. He seems to enjoy the attention without coveting it.
"I have heard him talk on television and I like what I heard," said Lydia Andiono, one of the spectators who packed Indiana University's new track and field stadium this weekend to see 31 meet records set in 42 events. "I like the way he thinks. He has goals in his life."
There seemed to be a Lewis to look at every minute of this track competition. When Carl wasn't jumping or running on a 4 x 100 meter relay team, his 18-year-old sister Carol was winning a bronze medal in the women's long jump. If both of them disappeared, their parents were on the track infield as cocoaches of the women's team representing the East. When all four Lewises got together, it jammed the wholesome meter.
"We've tried to instill in our kids some priorities. We don't want them out there just seeking glory," said Evelyn Lewis, a trim, handsome woman who must regularly convince people she is really 53 years old. "This thing is not going to last forever and ever. When it's over it's gone."
Both Evelyn and her husband Bill are familiar with the good and bad of competition. She represented the United States in the 1951 Pan Am Games in the high jump and long jump. He was a football hero at Tuskegee Institute, where they met. They both work as high school coaches in Willingboro, N.J., but at competing schools.
There are two Lewis children older than Carl and Carol. All of them play musical instruments and none ever was a slouch at sports. Ironically, Carl was the runt of the family. Until the 11th grade, beating Carl Lewis was nothing to brag about.
But watch this 6-foot-2, 180-pound athlete streak down a 100-meter track and that is hard to believe. In the sprint Lewis has more flash than aluminum foil. And when he hits the long jump takeoff, after a run of exactly 164 feet 6 inches, Lewis shoots over the sand pit in a nearly straight line.
"The old way of jumping for altitude looked good, but everybody always came straight down," said Lewis during a track-side discussion of aerodynamics. "You don't want to jump off the board as much as run off it."
Whenever Lewis ran this weekend, he had the eyes of the stadium crowd on him and a few thousand cameras focused to capture history. Between jumps, when he put on a shirt that read "Carol Lewis' Big Brother" then walked to the stands to consult with her, the live and artificial eyes followed.
After fouling his first three jumps, Lewis appeared to hit the next one perfectly. The crowd gasped even before he landed. But at the same time Lewis was raising his arms for what he said later would have been a world record, a white-haired judge at the takeoff board was raising a small red flag to signal another foul.
On his fifth and next-to-last try, after one more talk with little sis, Lewis played it conservatively and left the ground with inches of fair territory to spare. He came down 28 feet 9 inches later. It was the best jump ever on U.S. soil and second-best ever in the world.
"I've got the talent to beat the record," said Lewis afterward. "And when I get the record, I hope somebody comes along and smashes mine."