INDIANAPOLIS, AUG. 13 -- Carl Lewis is a vision in beiges and taupes. Silk and gabardine hang loosely from his delicate limbs, soft brown loafers comfort his valuable feet. A gold watch the size of a medal dangles from a gathered sleeve, two gold rings glint on his fingers.
Lewis is the marquee idol at the 10th Pan American Games this week, the trend-setter and snazzy dresser, the most recognizable track athlete of his time and aspiring all-around entertainer. But more importantly, Lewis is here to accomplish a specific purpose: set a world record in the long jump, one of the few achievements that has eluded him.
As Lewis prepares for his event here, and for the world championships in Rome next week, and then the Summer Olympics in Seoul next September, he has his eye on the prize -- a world record that would put him in the appropriate place in a sport he has dominated for a good part of the decade. It is all part of the rebuilding of Lewis after injuries, the death of his father this year and his struggle with unpopular perceptions of him since his four-gold medal performance in Los Angeles in 1984.
"I'm going to jump as far as I can," he said. "I've never been one to say I'm going for a record. First, I'm here to win because it's a team competition. But I'm going to take advantage of the facility and jump as far as I can."
The final in the long jump is Sunday afternoon at the Indiana University Track Stadium, a venue where Lewis has hurled himself as far as 30 feet, although that jump in 1982 was judged a foul. It has a long runway perfect for his lengthy approach and a fast surface that yields the speed he needs to establish a new mark.
Bob Beamon's record of 29-2 1/2 was set at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. A Soviet athlete, Robert Emmiyan, leaped 29-1 in the Ural Mountains this spring, the best among active athletes. But Lewis is lurking as second best in the world with a jump of 28-5 earlier this year. Both Beamon's and Emmiyan's jumps were at high altitude, an advantage Lewis won't have here. But he may not need it; this stadium is perfectly suited to him.
A world record would accomplish several things for Lewis. First, it would restore some of the polish to Lewis' athletic reputation that has faded slightly in the last two years. His recovery from an arthroscopic knee operation last year and the death of his father, Bill, kept him from dominating in sprint races; Lewis and Ben Johnson of Canada, Lee McRae of the United States and Raymond Stewart of Jamaica each win their share.
A record might also make people forget old, unfavorable impressions of him. Despite his spectacular victories in the the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and 4x100 relay, Lewis was perceived as a somewhat unpopular, one-dimensional figure in Los Angeles. He had a Grace Jones haircut, impenetrable shades, sharp cheekbones and court-jester outfits. He was portrayed as aloof, inaccessible and, sometimes, arrogant.
Lewis says the image was a misperception. He claims to be a more mature 25-year-old, and indeed seems more subdued. He still has his singing career, with a single released in Europe called "Break It Up," and an album just completed. But he seems intent on presenting himself as an unassuming sort more interested in track than his hair and vocal cords.
"The media really blew the image out of proportion," he said. "I think a lot of people realized I was in a no-win situation. But that's behind me . . .
"I think the Games defined me at that time, but the stories about me didn't. I was a person with a goal to achieve. I never lashed out at anyone, I never called anyone names. A lot of people said that, but it's not how I saw myself."
Perhaps the most damaging perception of Lewis came when he passed up his final turn in the long jump, once he felt assured of the gold medal. There were murmurs in the stands that he had deprived spectators of their money's worth, and that he was more interested in his plans for four golds than he was in competition.
But Lewis says now he would do it over again. He was afraid of injury, and was saving his legs for upcoming races.
Lewis says his jump has three stages: his long-legged approach is a good 173 feet, from there he jams hard on the takeoff board and he's off to a landing.
"I concentrate on the approach, going as smoothly and quickly as possible," he said. "Then after that, the main thing is aggression. It's like running off a cliff, that's how I think of it."
Should Lewis fail to break the world record, it would not be a crushing loss. He intends to remain in track for some time, at least a year or two past Seoul. There, Lewis has another goal in the back of his mind: five gold medals. He could achieve that by adding the 4x400 relay.
"I don't think of breaking the record per se," he said. "I know I can jump over 29. The talent is there."