To win one gold medal at the Olympic Games is an extraordinary feat. To win nine gold medals is practically unheard of! And yet that is exactly what the great American athlete Carl Lewis accomplished, earning him many accolades, including the title “Best Olympian of the 20th Century” from Sports Illustrated.
In November 1983, the renowned Grammy award-winning music producer Narada Michael Walden brought Carl to meet Sri Chinmoy at his New York headquarters. This was nearly a year before Carl’s first Olympic competition in Los Angeles, at a time when Sri Chinmoy was intensely involved in running as a way to keep the body fit and as a form of spiritual discipline. Carl very sympathetically coached Sri Chinmoy in sprinting, and Sri Chinmoy wholeheartedly encouraged and guided Carl in his stellar athletic career, travelling to several Olympic Games.
Try to feel that the whole earth is behind you and that you are getting blessings, love, concern, determination and oneness from the entire earth. You have to convince your entire being that the whole Olympic stadium is for you, because you are not representing any particular country or race, but the entire earth.
advice to Carl before the 1984 Olympics
Sri Chinmoy offered Carl the spiritual name Sudhahota, Bengali for “Unparalleled sacrificer of Immortality’s Nectar-Delight.” During some of his tensest moments — often before critical competitions — Carl met with Sri Chinmoy for inner support, as before the 200-metre finals in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
In his autobiography, Inside Track, Carl Lewis tells the following story.
After winning the gold medal in the long jump in Los Angeles, I had a pleasant, uplifting meeting with Sri Chinmoy. I visited him at a house he had rented, and we meditated, focusing on letting the power of the spiritual world carry me through the rest of the Olympics. Guru told me he was proud of me, and he kept everything extremely positive. “You are doing great,” he said. “Spiritually, as well, you are touching a lot of people. Keep your faith, and you will keep going. Two events to go. Just keep your faith.”
One other thing I remember Sri Chinmoy talking about: the 200-meter finals. He had been thinking about the race, and he wanted to ask a few questions about some of my competitors. Not questions about athletic ability, questions about character and personality.
Then Sri Chinmoy left me with a prediction. I would win the 200, and it would be an American sweep. He said that Kirk Baptiste would place second and Thomas Jefferson would take third. Fine with me. I hoped that Sri Chinmoy would be right, and based on everything I knew about him, I had a feeling he would be.
My leg was still sore for the 200-meter finals, and all I wanted to do was finish the race. But I felt good out of the blocks and ended up with one of the best 200s ever, just by staying relaxed. My time was 19.80 seconds, an Olympic record. I had run only one faster 200, the 19.75 a year before in Indianapolis, and the only faster time in history was Pietro Mennea’s 19.72, in 1979 at high altitude in Mexico City.
To make things even better, we had an American sweep, and it was just as Sri Chinmoy had predicted. Kirk Baptiste was second, two meters behind me and two meters ahead of Thomas Jefferson, a senior at Kent State University. The three of us hugged and shared a private moment, kneeling together on the track, saying a little thank you. We had reached our goal — a sweep! — and we would share a victory lap.
An excerpt from Carl Lewis' book, One More Victory Lap: My Personal Diary of an Olympic Year.
The 100 meters was my first event at the Seoul Olympics. It was hard to focus when I saw Ben Johnson on the track. I noticed that his eyes were very yellow. A sign of steroid use. Ben crossed the line with a time of 9.79 seconds. He had lowered the world record. I was second with a 9.92 … my best time ever … but not good enough to win. The next day was qualifying for the long jump finals. After that, I went with a friend of mine, Anukampa [wife of Narada Michael Walden], to see Sri Chinmoy, who was waiting for us at a hotel. I had invited him to Seoul to see me compete, and I was very pleased that he had come. After the race with Ben, he wanted to see me as soon as possible. Sri Chinmoy told me that the result of the race had not, and would not, register with him. Something had been wrong. He felt that Ben Johnson had looked and acted ‘abnormal’, and he said that Ben had not been full of joy on the victory stand. I told Sri Chinmoy that Ben had probably been using drugs, and Sri Chinmoy was bothered by that.
“I had an interesting experience during the victory ceremony,” Sri Chinmoy said. “I want you to know what happened. I stood for the Canadian anthem, but I was holding an American flag. A Canadian patriot standing beside me whispered that I should put the flag down, and I did not like that. ‘Not for long,’ I told him.”
Sri Chinmoy said that my father’s soul was watching from the inner worlds and was very proud of me. My father, he told me, knew that all would be well. Then I told Sri Chinmoy and Anukampa about a dream my mother had had the night before the race with Ben. It seemed real to her when my father spoke to her, telling her not to worry, everything would work out just fine. Everything would be all right. The way Anukampa recalls it, “Sri Chinmoy acknowledged this tale and gave more words of encouragement. He ended the conversation with his main theme throughout the meeting — gratitude to God. Whatever turned out for Sudhahota, there must be a sense of gratitude to the highest source, the Supreme.”
I thanked Sri Chinmoy for the time he spent with me. He had been such a calming influence, just as he had been back in ’84 when he helped me through some difficult times at the Games, just as he always had been. Whatever turned out for Sudhahota there must be a sense of gratitude to the highest source, the Supreme. He was always able, in a few words, to snap the world around us into perspective. We went back to the house, as Anukampa says, “a little late but a great deal lighter in heart.”
The next day would be the most demanding day of track and field in my career. I had to run two qualifying rounds of the 200, with just over an hour of rest between them, then after less than an hour, I had to start the long jump finals. Luckily, I was able to get through it okay. I still had two events left, and I needed rest, but in the middle of the night, about 3:30 in the morning, Seoul time, I was awakened by the phone. It had to be important because there were not many people who had our number, and why would any of them call now? It had to be something that could not wait until morning. It was Cleve [Carl’s brother], calling from home. Tracy Carruthers, working for NBC in Seoul, had just called our travel agency in Houston, trying to track me down. She had been all excited. Someone in the 100-meter finals had tested positive for steroids, and NBC was pretty sure it was Ben Johnson. They were not certain yet, but they were pretty sure. They wanted to arrange an interview with me, as soon as possible. It took a few hours, but the news came out on television, little by little. It was reported that Ben was the one who got caught. I would be awarded the gold medal. Call it fate or luck or justice or whatever you want to call it, but the gold medal I had wanted so badly would be mine. The gold medal I had promised my father would be mine. It was unbelievable.
Indeed, “Not for long!”
On June 24th, 1989, Carl and his teammates won the 4x100-metre relay during a track meet in Lille, France. They had wanted to also set a new world record, but unfortunately they were not successful. As Sri Chinmoy was in Paris to offer several Peace Concerts, he and Carl were able to meet the next day, along with Carl’s teammates—Joe DeLoach, Floyd Heard and Leroy Burrell. Here is the story as Carl tells it in his book Inside Track:
Before today, I thought I had heard all the excuses for running a bad race, failing to meet expectations or just missing a world record. But this morning I was introduced to a new explanation: The ground has a heart, and our relay team had not been in France long enough to feel that heart, to be comfortable with that heart, before our race. The explanation came from Sri Chinmoy, who was in Paris for another road run to promote world peace. I was glad when I heard Sri Chinmoy was here because he wanted to meet my teammates, and this was a good opportunity for that. In our hotel lobby, Joe DeLoach, Floyd Heard, Leroy Burrell, and I visited with Sri Chinmoy. He was surprised when he heard we had arrived only a day before the meet. “This explains why you did not win the world record,” said Sri Chinmoy, his words coming slowly, his eyes opening and closing as he spoke, his head nodding gently as he focused on his thoughts. “The ground has a heart. Everything has a heart, a spirit and a heart. When you fly here you have to be on the ground long enough to feel the heart. Yes, that is important. And you missed the record by only a little bit. In a new place — you have to understand this — you have to be on the ground longer before you race.” I smiled and nodded, familiar with the way Sri Chinmoy explains things. But my teammates were a bit stunned. They did not say much to Sri Chinmoy. They just observed. Sri Chinmoy gave me a birthday cake, a week early, but he wanted me to have it. Sri Chinmoy wished us good luck for the rest of our trip.
Before going to Tokyo in August 1991 for the World Championships, Sudhahota Carl Lewis said to Sri Chinmoy, “Guru, I am going to take your advice and go two weeks early.” At those games Carl set a new world record of 9.86 for 100 metres at the exceptionally advanced age (for a sprinter) of 30. Following the race, Carl gave Sri Chinmoy the running shoes he had worn during the race with the inscription: “Dearest Guru, much love, Sudhahota — 9.86.”
With my life’s infinite, infinite gratitude, I am holding your world-record, champion-hero supreme running shoes. May your fastest speed inspire us all — your spiritual brothers and sisters as well as all human beings on earth — to run faster than the fastest in our spiritual quest to reach our goal of the ever-transcending Beyond.
The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta were fast approaching. Carl Lewis was already 35 years old. He was competing against athletes who were in their early twenties, but it was not yet time for him to retire. One day, during his meditation, Sri Chinmoy saw a dark cloud around Carl and knew that Carl was in danger.
Sri Chinmoy immediately telephoned Carl and said, “I would like you to pray every waking hour for three minutes. And you must be alone when you are praying. You have to pray most intensely for the Supreme to protect you. Do you think that you can do it?”
Carl Lewis had such implicit faith in Sri Chinmoy. He replied, “I can definitely do it.” “What will you do if you are with your friends?” asked Sri Chinmoy. “I will simply tell them that I have something to do and I will leave the room,” said Carl.
Every day he faithfully fulfilled his promise. The weeks passed by and nothing untoward occurred. From time to time, Sri Chinmoy would ask him if he was still praying every hour. The answer was always a resounding “Yes.”
It was the day of the Olympic trials. Carl Lewis stood on the runway in front of the long jump pit, preparing to take his next jump. His entire being was focused on the jump. Suddenly there were shouts from the other side of the field and people started running. Carl looked up to see a 16-pound steel hammer coming in his direction. It landed just a few feet from him! The hammer throwers were far away, but no one had foreseen that the field was too small for them to throw safely. Had the hammer landed on Carl’s head or any part of his body, he would have suffered a most serious injury.
Now he saw and felt the meaning behind Sri Chinmoy’s concern for him all these weeks. He immediately telephoned Sri Chinmoy to offer him his heartfelt gratitude.
On July 29th, 1996, the morning of the Olympic Long Jump Finals in Atlanta, Georgia, Sri Chinmoy telephoned Carl Lewis and predicted that he would win the long jump. Indeed, against all odds, Carl had a spectacular win in the long jump for his 9th gold medal, at the remarkable age of 35. As he took his victory lap, the scoreboard read: “Carl Lewis has joined Al Oerter as the only athlete to win four gold medals in one Olympic event.”
During a special ceremony in Houston held in 1997 with 500 prominent political, sports and community leaders, Carl presented Sri Chinmoy with a specially crafted gold medal for his many years of spiritual guidance and for teaching him the “great importance of a positive spiritual attitude.”