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Carl Lewis Reminisces On His Pan American Games Experience And What Makes The Games So Special

By Kendra Hansey | Aug. 09, 2019, 3:23 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Carl Lewis, Paulo Andre Camilo de Oliveira (Brazil), gold medalist Michael Rodgers, Cejhae Greene (Antigua & Barbuda) and Neven Ilic in the podium of the men's 100-meter at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 7, 2019 in Lima, Peru.


LIMA, Peru – Carl Lewis’ mother competed in the first Pan American Games that took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1951. The experience changed her life and, in turn, changed Lewis’ as well.

One of the big takeaways from her Games experience was the need to raise her children to travel more.

“That experience was amazing for her,” Lewis said. “It if weren’t for her and what she believed in, especially her empowerment for women, I wouldn’t have been in athletics. That experience was really good for our family and was very good for me.”

The Pan American Games marked the first international competition Lewis, a four-time Olympian and 10-time Olympic medalist, ever competed in.

His first invitation came for the Pan American Games San Juan 1979 after narrowly making the cut in a qualifying meet in the U.S.

At the time of the U.S. meet, Lewis was a 17-year-old competing in long jump. He got down to the fifth jump, was in second place, and he went over to talk with his mother. She told him how well he was doing, and how the top-two athletes go to the Pan American Games.

“I wasn’t even thinking of the placing, I was just jumping,” Lewis said.

As he and his mother were speaking, Lewis recalled that Randy Williams out jumped him to be seated in second-place.

“My mother was like, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ and I was like, “No! I’m going to Pan Ams,’” Lewis said.

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In Lewis’ mind, he was already set to be at the Pan American Games. It was going to be the thrill of his life and not going wasn’t a possibility. On the last jump, Lewis passed Williams to seal his ticket to the Games.

“It was an incredible time,” Lewis said. “Both of my parents came down to Puerto Rico, and then I got third place.”

Lewis earned the men’s long jump bronze in San Juan, and then went onto later compete at Indianapolis 1987, upgrading to gold in long jump and winning the men’s 4x100m relay.

Lima 2019 marks Lewis’ first Games as a spectator and also his first time in Peru.

"It’s going to have a profound impact on this community," Lewis said of the Games taking place in Peru.

Excitement is perhaps the best description of how Lewis feels to experience Lima and the culture of its people. A lover of travel, Lewis’ expectations of Lima have already been met and surpassed, from the stellar food to the size of the city.

“It’s always amazing to see countries commit to the world of sport,” Lewis said. “The facilities here are fabulous.”
Lewis also praises the impact of the immersion in another country’s culture, for the athletes and the fans.

“Showing [the Games] on TV in the States and sending these athletes all these places with so many events is just great and better for America. The fact that we can do that and bring the world into our homes – through athletes traveling, through their competition, through watching on TV – just seeing different cultures, it’s just better for (the U.S.).”

At Lima 2019, Lewis has five athletes from the University of Houston that he coaches whom are competing in track and field. His ceremonial Games role was presenting the medals in the men’s 100-meter dash and men’s long jump, which took place on Wednesday.