July 14, 2024

Sports are a microcosm of society. Perhaps there’s no better example of that than when Jesse Owens competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the heart of Nazi Germany, persevered and won four gold medals in what is still an American track and field record for most gold medals earned at a single Olympics.

A new documentary about the late track and field legend called “Triumph: Jesse Owens and the Berlin Olympics” premieres June 19 on the History Channel.

Carl Lewis, the man who matched Owens’ four gold medals almost 50 years later at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, is featured in the documentary. USA TODAY Sports interviewed Lewis, 62, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist and the University of Houston’s track and field head coach, about the documentary and the sport. Here are the highlights of that conversation.

Lewis: “The humanity of the story. The simplicity. It’s about competition. Somebody who is the greatest of their generation. One of the greatest athletes of all time. It’s about politics, race and antisemitism. Basically, if you break it down, it’s about exactly where we are today. We have an Olympics coming up right now, which I think will be fabulous in Paris. But we have Israel and Hamas war, all the problems and issues we have here in the states, we’re talking about an attack on diversity, equity and inclusion and the critical race theory, which is absolutely absurd. What’s sad in a lot of ways, is a lot of issues Jesse went through really are primary issues we are going through today. In a lot of ways if you just take out the sports part, it’s something to say, ‘Wow, have we really changed as much as we think we have?’ The political side is important as well as the athlete side.”

Lewis: “It’s very timely. It’s perfect to come out on Juneteenth. It brings a strong message that should resonate. In a lot of ways, the stories are the same because you’re talking about slavery and Jim Crow. … I think there’s a connection what he was going through in the 1930s and what Juneteenth represents.”Athlete Burnout: How To Avoid Fatigue as a Combined Events Athlete — Neuff Athletic Equipment

Lewis: “No, not in Paris. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. It won’t happen in my lifetime. The reason I say that is because society won’t let it happen. I’m a college coach and the kids can’t even do the workouts I used to do. It’s too hard. I don’t think we’re raising a generation of kids that can handle it.

“The Olympics are going to be in Los Angeles in four years. Wouldn’t that be incredible if somebody could do that and I’m still alive and could watch it and be inspired by it? But I just don’t see the way sports is going. I just don’t see it. And that’s the sad part because I would love to.”

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