Even now, with his 48th birthday quickly approaching, Carl Lewis looks like he could go 9.9 in the 100. Heck, on a good day with a nice tailwind and a fast track, Lewis looked as though he might even be able to pull off a 27-footer in the long jump.
No, he didn't get those nine gold medals and one silver in four different Olympics by accident. Nor was it a mistake when Sports Illustrated named Lewis the greatest U.S. Olympian of the 20th Century.
Chalk that up to clean living (Lewis is a vegan and a fitness devotee even though he retired from professional sports after the 1996 Olympics), which is a concept that doesn't seem to jibe with modern pro sports based on the latest headlines.
Then again, Lewis is all-too familiar with the seamy side of athletics. Actually, he had a front-row seat for a few of sports' all-time dirtiest moments. Of course none were more notorious than the September day in Seoul, Korea where Lewis ran a time good enough for a new world record in the Olympic finals of 100-meters only to watch as Canadian Ben Johnson ran away from him like he was stuck in the mud.
Three days later Johnson was disqualified when his drug test was tainted with the steroid Winstrol. Coincidentally, Winstrol is the same steroid baseball player Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for in 2005 and is also reported to have been used by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens during their careers.
So yes, Lewis knows a thing or two about drugs in sports, and, he thinks he has some idea about when an athlete might be using it.
"The reality is that most people are clean," Lewis, the Willingboro, N.J. native, said following his appearance on Daily News Live. "When you have two out of 100 that's two percent, but if those two are in the finals, suddenly that's a very high percentage. And if two win medals, that's two out of three. That's  percent. Just so quickly, it goes up."
Bolt out of the blue
Take Usain Bolt, for instance. Bolt, as most recall, stole the show at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing by running for three gold medals, all in world-record time. Bolt, just 21 and from a small, impoverished town in Jamaica, burst onto the international track scene early last summer when he ran a world-record 9.72 in the 100-meters in New York City before crushing the field with a mind-boggling 9.69 in Beijing.
Some say that had Bolt not spent the last five full strides celebrating his victory, he could have run 9.59 - simply an unheard of time for 100 meters.
Bolt was just getting warmed up, though. A few days after his gold-medal run in the 100, Bolt blasted Michael Johnson's seemingly untouchable 200-meters world record by clocking 19.30 - into a headwind, no less - for his second gold. The world-record trifecta was completed later that week when he ran on the 4x100-meter relay for Jamaica.
But unless one is an ardent fan of track and field, not many people knew the name Usain Bolt. Then again, why would they. After all, until May of 2008, the Jamaican had not broken 10 seconds in a 100-meter race.
Needless to say, Bolt's amazing Olympics raised a few eyebrows, including Lewis'. Interestingly, Lewis says if he were competing today instead of the 1980s and 1990s, Usain Bolt might still just be another guy with world-class speed.
"Things would be different. Things would be very different," Lewis said. "You wouldn't know Bolt... I'll tell you that right now. He wouldn't pull that stuff with me around, I'll tell you that right now. Just leave it at that - he wouldn't pull that stuff on me."
Hey, on the track there are no facades. That's especially the case with sprinters like Lewis, who would try to intimidate and play mind games with their opponents. Yes, stepping onto a track is exactly like climbing into a boxing ring - there is no place to hide and only one way home. So it's no wonder that Lewis still has that part of his game well intact. Once a fighter, always a fighter.
But stuff? Did Lewis mean the celebration and the histrionics Bolt displayed before breaking the tape? What stuff?
"I just mean, and I've said this publically, it's just interesting how... the improvement was just too dramatic not to be questioned," Lewis said, choosing his words carefully. "We'll see. I could be totally wrong and I hope that I am. I haven't heard any discussion, but time will tell and it always does. But it's strange that the Jamaicans stopped coming to America [to train] and all of a sudden started running faster."
Lewis says Bolt should take a stronger stance in the anti-doping movement.
"That's the thing, too. We're a sport where when something like that happens, everyone says, 'OK, what the heck is going on?' You have to cognizant of that and the thing that disappoints me is that he is a perfect voice to speak out on this issue, so why are you silent? Get out there," Lewis said. "If athletes want to be successful and they want it to mean something, they have to take a stand. He has a perfect chance right now and he could be remembered for 50 years because of that."
Yeah, but could Bolt just be young and naïve? Could he just be wildly talented and finally putting it all together?
Doesn't Lewis remember what it was like when he was Bolt's age?
"How old is he now? (Told 21). OK, 21 for me was '83 so I was already down the road," Lewis said. "When I was at the Olympics in '84 I had just turned 23 and everyone just got all over me and said, 'Oh my, you made this mistake.' When I look back now, I was such a kid and like anyone who looks back on their 20s they think, 'What was I thinking?' But at the end of the day what I didn't know I tried to find out. I always felt like I needed to be a voice for my sport. I knew that just running on the track fast wasn't going to be enough."
Fair enough, but at the same time Lewis came from a tightly-knit, two-parent family. He went to college, had a strong support system and had something to fall back on if sports didn't work out. Lewis says it himself that "sports are a privilege, not a right."
"The biggest influence on a kid isn't the athlete, it's the adult or the teacher who says, 'You're going to be a good athlete one day,' or, 'You're NOT going to be a good athlete one day.' Or that parent that says, 'You're not signing up for that team because I don't want to drive you there,'" he said. "So we have to take it off the field and make it so everyone is together. We have to get it back to 'we.'"
That's the issue with baseball, Lewis said. With its record profits and highly-paid commissioner, baseball seems to care more about its bottom line than the image it projects or its legacy. The fact that Alex Rodriguez tested positive and admitted to steroids use shouldn't really come as a surprise at all since MLB fostered its "Steroid Era."
"For me, the first part of my career I didn't understand why I was so good in a lot of ways. I did things that I was always building toward. I jumped far and ran fast even though I was a little skinny kid," Lewis, the former "fastest man on earth," explained. "And then I understood the magnitude of what I was doing and why I started to speak out against drugs so much. I realized that if we didn't stop it early, it could destroy the sport. Baseball is just in the beginning of destroying it. To me, even with an A-Rod, that situation is - what really bothers me is how it's just been spun. But the reality is you took drugs and just say that and deal with it.
"My thing is you look at A-Rod and you look at Marian Jones - please (rolls eyes) are you kidding me - people do cheat. ... But what the heck was going on? Why would you cheat?
In the Olympic sports if the drug tests come back dirty and after the arbitration process has been exhausted, medals, money and awards are stripped. Gone. Just like that they're taken away. Perhaps that's a model baseball can follow? If a player tests positive, maybe his team should be eliminated from the playoffs?
Just don't expect much in the way of sympathy.
"I don't think I feel sorry for them, but there has to be a reason why they cheat," Lewis said. "I don't think there are very many evil people in the world - there just aren't many evil people. But there are a lot of unfortunate people, a lot of people who make ridiculous decisions, and that's why I really believe in rehab. Because I think we can have 99 percent of the people come back and do the right thing. But what I don't like is, for a lack of a better word, a bull crapper. Just say it and say what it is."
Nope, Lewis never had any trouble with that.