LONDON -- One of my favorite cool Carl Lewis facts -- and there are many, given that he is just one of four Olympians to win nine gold medals, dominated both sprints and the long jump, and was named the Sportsman of the Century by the International Olympic Committee -- is that he was drafted by both the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and the NBA's Chicago Bulls.
Neither was done with any seriousness in mind, though the Cowboys did like to convert track stars to receivers. But it's a quirky reminder of just how revered his overall athletic skills were during his heyday that began in 1979 and took him through the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
I had a chance to chat with Lewis, who is in London in part to promote the Doha Goals Forum, Tuesday night. Coincidentally, the conversation with the 51-year-old Lewis took place a few moments after another living Olympic legend, Michael Phelps, won his record 19th medal. Here are a few of his thoughts:
1. There are few people who can relate to Michael Phelps's place in sport, but as a four-time Olympian with nine gold medals, you are on that short list. How does someone not only achieve at that level, but sustain everything that goes into it over multiple Olympics?
Lewis: "Well, one of the challenges is that you're going back over and over and over, and it's a big challenge to stay focused. That's why I want to give Michael a lot of credit, because this has not been the easiest Olympics for him, and he's pushed through. Missing the podium in his first race [the 400 Individual Medley] could have affected his mindset, and it didn't. He's been able to stay focused and he's been able to focus on coming here to run -- swim, rather -- seven events and I'm going to do seven events, and nothing that happened in another event distracted him at the next one. Of course you have to have talent, that goes without saying, but It takes almost unfathomable dedication to become an Olympian, let alone one who has accomplished what he has. I have the utmost respect and admiration for him."
2. You're in London in part on behalf of the Doha Goals Forum, which is touted as a platform for world leaders to advance social initiatives through sport. How does this relate to your own background and upbringing in relation to sports?
Lewis: "There are a number of ways. No. 1, my parents were teachers and coaches .I came up in a coaching family. And in the process of being coaches, they started the track club that I ran with. They started the club in 1970, they established the infrastructure, and built it up. I saw how it brought a whole community together. We had 300-400 kids every summer who were practicing and ultimately we had five people eventually make the Olympic team. With the Forum, we're talking about how to build sports and how to build a program, though it's obviously something on a much larger scale. It fit right in to what I grew up around."
3. You've said you don't plan to attend the track and field events here, but you are trying to fulfill a quest to see every Olympic sport in person at some point.
Lewis: "One of the things that happened when I was competing was that I never saw another sport. So I decided that I was going to pick a minimum of two sports every Olympics to go to, not to just watch them, but to learn them. In that process, let's see, I've seen team handball, volleyball, beach volleyball, badminton, rowing, table tennis, and tennis, which of course I knew. This time around, I want to do that for fencing and BMX. So it's just something I want to get to, to see all 32 sports, and take advantage of my chance to be here."
4. What's your favorite? Handball seems to be the one that is blowing up in popularity right now.
Lewis: "Every one is unique, and it's funny, because when I started to do it, I was like, 'Aw, I know I'm going to like this,' but I ended up really liking curling, which I never thought I would like, I liked short-track speedskating when I went in the winter. Ping-pong has its own story. And badminton was pretty amazing. I don't know how they do that so fast.''
5. People said that about you once, you know.
Lewis Still do. Laughs