Carl Lewis was 35 years old by the time he competed at Atlanta 1996. He could look back on an extraordinary series of successes. Over the course of the previous three editions of the Games, he had entered nine events, winning eight gold medals and one silver. Perhaps most notably, he had won the long jump at each of those Games, making him one of a very rare group of Olympians to have won the same individual event three times in a row. Now he was looking to become just the third athlete in history to make it four in a row.
The long jump was Lewis’ only event this time around, as other American athletes had overtaken him in the pecking order on the track. Another of his team-mates, Mike Powell, threatened his ambitions in the long jump as well. Powell had won 34 contests in a row after the 1992 Games and he arrived in Atlanta in good form. Then there was the Cuban Ivan Pedroso, who had been the world's leading jumper over the past year, but injury was to hinder his performance at these Games.
Despite his past glories, Lewis was regarded as an outsider, having only just qualified for the US team. After two qualifying jumps he was down in 15th place, with only the top 12 jumpers set to secure a place in the final. But then, with his final leap of the qualifying round, he delivered a dazzling reminder of his brilliance, recording the biggest distance of the competition so far to confirm his place in the final.
After the opening two jumps of the final he was in third place. Then, once again, he produced something very special, leaping 8.50m. It was the furthest he had jumped at sea level since the Games in Barcelona four years earlier, and it was a mark that nobody else could match.
For Powell, meanwhile, it was turning into a particularly disappointing day. Not only had his great rival taken gold, but he injured himself in the fifth round and missed out on the podium altogether, finishing back in fifth place. Lewis marked his triumph by filling a flask with sand from the pit as a souvenir of his stunning ninth and last Olympic gold.