King Carl: track today

Before tracking Usain Bolt’s future, Carl Lewis wants to absorb what happened at Beijing Games

As to the question of who in America might challenge Bolt in London next year — Lewis takes the vaguely optimistic view.

“My main focus is saying, ‘Hey, we always have to think someone will come up,’” Lewis said.

Even 15 years after leaving the sport, Lewis remains America’s iconic figure in a track world that grew increasingly troubled after his departure.

By setting the 100-meter record three times in the span of 15 months in 2008 and 2009 — lowering it from 9.74 seconds to 9.58 — Bolt has redefined the sport’s landscape.

“Really kind of bizarre,” Lewis described the rapid lowering of the world record. “It’s hard to follow what’s going on. Kind of crazy the way the sport’s become.”

Instead of focusing on that, Lewis is busy running for the state legislature in New Jersey, where his candidacy is being challenged in the courts because of the state’s four-year residency requirement. He keeps his hand in track, mainly trying to influence the younger side of the sport.

He’s working for the Hershey’s Track and Field Games, a 34-year-old program that draws millions of kids into track and field. The North American Final meet takes place Aug. 6 in Hershey, Pa.

“It’s why I deal with youth — there are no issues, no drama,” he said. “All the drama is whether you win or not, and 10 minutes later, whether you did or not, you go get your chocolate.”

If only things were that simple at the elite level.

In the aftermath of the 2008 Olympics, in which the Americans won only 23 medals, Lewis was asked to be part of a task force that explored what went wrong.

The Project 30 report — named as such because of a goal set by former USA Track and Field CEO Doug Logan to win 30 medals at the London Olympics — identified a number of structural flaws inside the team.

With the Olympics starting a year from Wednesday, Lewis isn’t completely convinced all the issues have been straightened out.

“The reality is that we’re talking about 30 medals and we still haven’t figured out how to pass the baton” in relays, he said. “The last two championships, the men have not passed the baton. That’s a huge problem. We had two gold medals that were guaranteed all the time and now we can’t get a medal, period.”

Faulty passes cost the men medals in the 400-meter relay at both the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 worlds. The women dropped the baton in 2008 and didn’t finish in 2009 when Muna Lee pulled up with a hamstring injury.

USATF is making changes this year, requiring relay sprinters to participate in three training camps and at least two races in the lead-up to world championships. How the Americans fare in South Korea next month will play a big role in shaping the strategy for the Olympics next year.

Absent from this year’s team, however, is Tyson Gay, who has been battling hip injuries all year and has shut things down for 2011 while he rehabilitates from surgery in hopes of being at full health for the Olympic year.

Along with Justin Gatlin, on the comeback after a four-year doping suspension, and Walter Dix, this year’s American champion in the 100 and 200 meters, Gay is still viewed as one of the top U.S. threats to Bolt.

“But the last two or three years, he’s been injured every year,” Lewis said. “Hamstring injuries, you can recover from that. But now it’s a hip. When you start getting structural injuries, those are things you really have to worry about.”

But Lewis doesn’t worry about it all that much.

As one of America’s most decorated Olympic stars, he could play the role of the ubiquitous elder-statesman at track meets around the world. While hardly invisible on the track scene, he has other interests — most notably right now, politics.

In a race for a seat in the New Jersey Legislature, Lewis was unopposed in the Democratic primary, where his name was placed on the ballot after it was disqualified by the lieutenant governor, a Republican, but later reinstated by a judge. The matter is now up to the federal courts.

“I’m staying with the same ideas when I ran in sports,” Lewis said. “I’m not tearing anyone down. I’m letting people know what I believe in, what I think. My focus is for them to vote for me, and not against my opponent.”

He was at a camp in New Jersey and I can honestly say he really does care about track in the US. Although he shamelessly plugged his bid his race for the legislature, he spent a good 20-30min just talking about track and his time spent running as a pro and also the state of US athletics… He spoke about the reason why he thinks the US relay team bombed out in great detail. Stuff not too many people in the crowd knew about the us relay team set selection…

i agree. hes still very passionate and still outspoken but the powers to be are telling him to chill concerning certain aspects. he was a great relay runner and the SMTC guys seldom lost relays and to see the like of canada/jamaica beat the usa kills carl because when he was in action the usa always came out on top. from 84- 92 they were great and his 92 final leg was brilliant…you can visually see him pulling away from christie and the little cuban guy. thank god for christie carl didnt make the 100m team or he was F’ed because in barcelona carl was running fantastically as the relay showed his form.

Without going into detail, generally speaking, the powers that be don’t like Carl talking about what aspects of track?