Carl's quest for 10th gold unwarranted

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - Carl Lewis is done paying dues. He is looking for a free pass to a last Olympic medal, a last-minute role on a near-lock relay team.

This is a goal that takes some gall.

Lewis finished last in the 100-meter finals at the United States Track & Field Trials, and yet he aspires to run the anchor leg on America's 4x100 relay. He wants a 10th gold medal, it would seem, in the worst way.

''I've said I'd love to run it, but they haven't asked me to run it,'' Lewis said. ''The only experience left would be to be the all-time gold medal winner. It's kind of sad that it's not up to me. It's up to someone else. If it was up to me, I'd be running the relay and I'd be doing a good job.''

The issue is whether Lewis is more deserving of this opportunity than American sprinters who have recently run better.

Lewis undoubtedly is the greatest track athlete of his time and has twice won gold medals at 100 meters. Yet career achievement doesn't count for much in the starting blocks. In these deliberations, it shouldn't count at all.

Lewis' quest for a 10th gold medal should carry no more weight than Jon Drummond's pursuit of his first.

''When people say that Carl deserves to have his 10th gold, they're saying to the relay members, 'You don't deserve to have your moment. Carl comes first,' '' Drummond said Wednesday.

''To put Carl on, you've got to take somebody off,'' said Dennis Mitchell. ''And that's not cool, man . . . Carl's had his moment. Let me have mine.''

Drummond, Mitchell, Leroy Burrell and Mike Marsh currently comprise America's 4x100 relay team. Alternate Tim Montgomery is scheduled to replace Marsh in Friday's preliminary round, and Tim Harden and Jeff Williams are also available in the event of injury.

All seven of these runners reported to the pre-Olympic camp in North Carolina, the one Lewis skipped. They have been working on their baton exchanges this week while Lewis has been preoccupied with politicking. Furthermore - and here is the most salient point - every last one of them beat Lewis in their most recent race.

''Winning the long jump with one jump doesn't mean he should be on the (relay) team,'' Drummond said. ''He was butt-naked last in the Trials, wasn't he?''

In his defense, Lewis complained of cramps that day at the Trials, but he has done nothing since to reestablish his credentials for a relay spot. He chose instead to concentrate on the long jump, and he did not actively campaign for a role on the relay until after he had leaped to his ninth gold medal Monday night.

A simple matter of speed

The rules permit some flexibility. USA track coach Erv Hunt has the latitude to field a relay team of discus throwers and shot putters if he should see fit.

Hunt's mission, however, is to field the relay team most likely to win a gold medal. Based on recent results, that would be the team Hunt already has in place. On July 13, Burrell, Drummond, Marsh and Mitchell ran the 4x100 in 38.16 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year.

''We have our team,'' Hunt said. ''The people that showed up and practiced, that's the team. If something drastic happens, then we'll take a (second) look at it. I would give Carl Lewis strong consideration because of his experience, even though he didn't show up for practice and hasn't been a very good team member.''

Cynicism says Lewis sneaks in somehow. Maybe NBC applies some pressure, or Nike greases some palms, and someone suddenly discovers a tender hamstring. If the Olympic schedule could be rearranged so that Michael Johnson could chase the 200 - 400 double, we can expect mountains to be moved for Carl Lewis.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Aug. 1, 1996.