After Benita Fitzgerald escaped from Stephanie Hightower's shadow and won the 100-meter hurdles at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Fitzgerald commented on how "disheartening" it had been, constantly finishing second.

It probably will come as a shock to Fitzgerald and a lot of others that it can get pretty tiresome winning all the time, too. Carl Lewis, after completing his remarkable 100-200-long jump triple here, explained that he needed such far-out goals to keep his life interesting.

"Track meets are not as important as they were in the past," Lewis said. "In fact, some meets are becoming somewhat boring. I'm going to cut my competitions down and go my hardest at those I compete in.

"Doubling in the 100 and long jump had become a little tainted, because it had been done before. Attempting the triple got my senses bubbling again."

The long-range objective for Lewis is equaling in 1984 Jesse Owens' accomplishment of four gold medals--in the 100, 200, long jump and 4x100-meter relay--at the 1936 Olympics. As a dry run, he hopes to do it first in the World Track and Field Championships at Helsinki in August.

There is a bit of an obstacle, since the coaching staff for the World Championships wants the U.S. 4x100 team to work together for a month before the Aug. 7-14 meet, and Lewis will be unavailable because of summer-school courses at the University of Houston. Considering his exploits here, it seems likely the staff will make an exception.

After easily winning the 100 meters against a head wind Saturday night, Lewis on Sunday posted history's second-best long jump (28-10 1/4) before winning the 200 in another all-time second best (19.75).

Although Lewis does not own a world record, he is breathing hard on three of the toughest--Jimmy Hines' 9.95 for the 100 in 1968, Pietro Mennea's 19.72 for the 200 in 1979 and Bob Beamon's 29-2 1/2 long jump, also recorded in 1968.

Lewis' legal bests are 9.96, 19.75 and 28-10 1/4, and all of those performances have been accomplished at sea level. Hines, Mennea and Beamon set their records in the rarefied air of Mexico City. Lewis has altitude on his mind, too, but only because he wants to be certain no one ever says it worked to his advantage.

"I'm not sure about going to the Sports Festival next week, but I'm leaning no," Lewis said of the competition at high altitude in Colorado Springs. "I'm not seeking the world record in the long jump--although, naturally, I'd like to get it--and I don't want the altitude to taint some of the things I've done in the past."

During the 200-meter final here, in which he clipped eight-hundredths of a second off Tommie Smith's U.S. record from the 1968 Olympics, Lewis looked back to check the fading competition and then raised his arms in joy before crossing the finish line.

Those in attendance with stop watches gazed at the figures in disbelief, then were quick to criticize Lewis for his apparent hot-dog act. It was obvious that had he run through the tape, he would have wiped out Mennea's mark.

If Lewis was sorry about the apparent faux pas, he hid any such feeling when the subject was raised later. Instead, he left his audience with the feeling that the records are his; if he is reluctant to accept them, that is his privilege.

"I have no regrets," Lewis said. "I have fun competing and experience joy competing. I don't compete just for records. I get a kick out of it and I want the crowd to get a kick out of it, too."

It is a sad fact of life for the elite of U.S. runners--Lewis, Edwin Moses, Alberto Salazar, Steve Scott--that their efforts rarely lift U.S. spectators from their seats, while in Europe they receive the adoration largely reserved for rock stars on this side of the ocean.

A year ago, in Knoxville, Lewis turned and waved to the crowd as he approached the finish of the 100 meters. Sunday, after his American record long jump, he also turned to the stands and raised his arms, much as he did during the 200.

Lewis enjoys watching others compete; he wants the spectators to feel the same way.

"I like to watch good, quality races," Lewis said. "When I saw Sebastian Coe run in Europe, it was very exciting. And I like to watch Steve Scott, because of all the determination he puts into his running, and Evelyn Ashford is very exciting, because she's so fast."

Lewis likes to watch the triple jump, too, and he talks of the possibility of trying it in the future, perhaps when he has surpassed 30 feet in the long jump and sees nothing of interest left in that area. He has said before that, while records are not a crucial item, improvement is.

"I've improved every year and if I ever got to the point where I felt the only thing I could be was best in the world, then I wouldn't be satisfied, because that wouldn't be what got me there," said Lewis, who'll be 22 on July 1. "Competing in the triple jump has crossed my mind. I don't think there's a field event I dislike.

"My concentration has zeroed in, I'm stronger and I'm more mature," Lewis said. "I've added the 200 and, although I'm still inexperienced in it, I can see areas to improve there, and in the 100 and long jump, too."