Carl Lewis bid adieu to the Mt. SAC Relays on Sunday with two more first-place finishes--his 18th and 19th victories here--and one final challenge.
"I don't see anybody in this country standing up and being a leader in this sport," said Lewis after running in two winning relays for the Santa Monica Track Club in what he has called his last competitive appearance in Southern California.
"If you want this sport to be better, if you want this sport to be cleaner--and it's in bad shape right now--someone's going to have to speak out and be a leader . . .
"Just running and winning is not good enough. It's not just, 'Look at me, I'm the best in the world' and not dealing with kids and charities and making [public] appearances. But I don't see anyone of these youth athletes doing that right now."
Lewis didn't mention any names, but at least two were most conspicuous by their absence.
Michael and Johnson.
"I just hope some people step up," Lewis continued, "or the sport is going to disappear in this country. The NBA would never let anything like that happen. The NBA promotes its sports and promotes its athletes and gets involved with the community.
"Our sport doesn't support one organization in this country. Not one single charity. Our sport has to integrate with the community. Things have to be done or our sport is going to die."
As an example, Lewis cited such grass-roots meets as the Mt. SAC Relays, an event in which he has participated every year since 1981.
"I hear people say, 'Oh, Carl has never given back,' " Lewis said. "But we [members of the Santa Monica Track Club] enter more meets than anyone in the country. You need [the top names] to come and compete in things like this."
Lewis, 35, anchored Santa Monica's 400-meter relay team, following Mike Marsh, Leroy Burrell and Floyd Heard en route to a meet-record time of 38.50. Santa Monica held the previous mark of 38.63, set in 1989.
In the sprint medley, Lewis ran the second and 200-meter leg, taking the the baton from Heard and opening a lead of about eight meters before handing off to Lamont Smith. Smith's 400-meter leg and Johnny Gray's 800-meter anchor enabled Santa Monica to hold off Texas Tech by nearly four seconds, with a time of 3:12.75.
Also notable Sunday were Marsh's wind-aided 9.87 mark in the 100 meters; John Godina's double in the shot put (69-1 1/2) and discus (213-1); and the inability of Texas Tech to win the 800-meter relay while running unopposed. Only two teams were originally entered in the race and when HSInternational dropped out, Texas Tech was left to run against the clock. No contest. Texas Tech could only complete 200 meters before Dion Miller dropped the baton in a no-pressure exchange from leadoff Richey Hunter.
A dropped baton figured in Santa Monica's 400-meter relay victory. HSInternational led Santa Monica heading into the final leg, but anchor Gentry Bradley bobbled the exchanged from Ato Boldon, enabling Lewis to sprint off gloriously into the sunset.
If Bradley had held on to the baton, he insisted, "we'd have won it, no doubt." But before another question could be asked, Bradley's teammate Jon Drummond poked his head into the huddle and blurted, "It's just a track meet, fellas.
"It would've been a great race too, if we had held the baton. But, hey, that's track and field. Technical lapses happen."
Drummond, a longtime Lewis rival, laughed and shrugged. "Carl Lewis won," Drummond said. "Great for Carl Lewis. It's his last hurrah. He deserves it. Let him shine.
"Give all the love to him that was taken away when people said he was washed up. This is his moment. His day. He's leaving with a big bang."
And, hoping to make enough noise that someone with younger legs listens to him.