/ 9 May 2024

Youth of today lack the discipline to break records, says Olympic champ Carl Lewis

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Olympic legend Carl Lewis of the United States talks during a press conference at the Main Media Centre of Parque Deportivo del Estadio Nacional on Day 8 of the Santiago 2023 Pan Am Games on October 28, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Fernando de Dios/Getty Images)

American long jump legend Carl Lewis does not see any immediate progression in what he dubbed the “toughest” of all field events, questioning the mental fortitude of easily distracted up-and-coming athletes.

Lewis won four consecutive Olympic golds between 1984 and 1996, as well as two world titles. 

He went unbeaten for a decade before famously being trounced by Mike Powell at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo in what has been dubbed one of the most thrilling field face-offs in history.

It took Powell to leap a world record of 8.95m to win that day, beating Bob Beamon’s 8.90m set at altitude at the 1968 Mexico Games — and still an Olympic record. 

Powell’s effort and Lewis’ two final jumps in Tokyo remain the three longest distances ever recorded at low altitude.

“Why is the long jump not popular? Because no one’s jumping far,” the outspoken Lewis said of the perceived decline in interest in the discipline.

Illustrating Lewis’s point, Greece’s Miltiadis Tentoglou won the Olympic title in Tokyo with a best of 8.41m and took gold at last year’s world outdoor championships with a mark of 8.52m.

“It’s not rocket science. When you have a generation that got used to people that were jumping 8.60m, and competition was there, people were excited.”

Currently, he told a group of journalists at the World Athletics Relays in Nassau, capital of the Bahamas,  “fans don’t feel like they’re going to see anything special”.

“With the long jump at one point, you really felt, like, ‘I want to be there because I’m going to see something special.’”

But times have changed, Lewis continued, with a severely reduced number of newcomers willing to submit to the rigorous training demands needed to become a top jumper.

“I just don’t think our culture is raising kids to do that anymore,” he said. “It’s just not in the culture to work that hard, to not be distracted. It’s just not there. 

“And in our culture, I’m not talking about just athletes but I’m talking about kids. What I had to go through, a kid now? ‘Oh no, got to stop, mental health,’” he quipped. “Seriously, I’m just being honest.”

Lewis credits Jesse Owens, the American who became an iconic figure in winning four golds at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, including the long jump, as a role model.

“Jesse Owens would have made the final every Olympic Games in history to this day. His personal best [of 8.13m] would have got the bronze medal in London. So why is that? Because it’s hard,” he said.

Lewis was a fervent critic of World Athletics’ proposed change in rules in the long jump in a bid to eliminate foul jumps. The change would see the take-off board replaced by a “zone”, with distances measured from the moment of flight from within said zone.

“You’re supposed to wait until April 1st for April Fool’s jokes,” Lewis tweeted at the time.

The 62-year-old elaborated that fouling percentages had barely changed over the last 30 years.

“The reason the rate of fouling is high is because the event is difficult,” he said, describing the take-off board as one of the very foundations of long jumping. “The beauty of the long jump is the challenge. When you take away that challenge … all of a sudden, you’ve created a new event.” 

Lewis also warned about the discrepancy in the availability of new technology.

“You create the constant complication of you’ll never be able to do that at every level, ever. 

“So, because of that, you’re going to have 99% of the world doing one event and then 1% of the world doing another event.” — AFP