Lewis and Joyner-Kersee voted top Olympians

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The Independent Online

Carl Lewis equaled Paavo Nurmi's Olympic record of nine gold medals in track and field. He matched Jesse Owens' four golds at one Olympics, and he tied Al Oerter's mark of four golds in the same event.

Carl Lewis equaled Paavo Nurmi's Olympic record of nine gold medals in track and field. He matched Jesse Owens' four golds at one Olympics, and he tied Al Oerter's mark of four golds in the same event.

No one in history has made as significant an impact in such a high-profile Olympic sport. For that reason Lewis was voted the greatest male Summer Olympian of the century by a six-member panel of experts assembled by The Associated Press.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee was chosen as the outstanding female Summer Olympian by the panel, which included IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch and IAAF president Primo Nebiolo, who died last month just weeks after casting his votes.

Lewis received three first-place votes and a total of 55 points, edging Nurmi, the Flying Finn, who won the 1,500 and 5,000 meters only a half-hour apart at the 1920 Olympics. Nurmi also got three first-place votes and 53 points.

"It is a great honor," Lewis said. "I've always felt very much more like an Olympic athlete than just a track athlete, and the successes I have had at the Olympics were much more important than those I had at track meets."

Rounding out the top 10 were: long-distance runner Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia; Owens; Mark Spitz; US discus thrower Oerter; Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila; Jim Thorpe; Danish yachtsman Paul Elvstrom; and Michael Johnson, Turkish weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu and Greg Louganis, who all tied for 10th.

Joyner-Kersee received two first-place votes and 47 points, beating another track star, Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands. Blankers-Koen, winner of four gold medals at the 1948 Olympics, had no firsts but a total of 45 points.

Russian gymnast Larysa Latynina, winner of nine Olympic golds and a record total of 18 medals, received three first-place votes and was third with 38 points. Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci got the other first and was fourth with 32 points.

"I'm numb," Joyner-Kersee said when told of the vote. "I can't find the words to describe how I feel."

The other women in the top 10 were: gymnast Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia; Polish sprinter Irena Szewinska; Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser; US sprinter Wilma Rudolph; Babe Didrikson; and Florence Griffith Joyner.

Lewis, known as King Carl after competing so often and so successfully internationally, was not recognized or glorified in the United States as much as he was overseas.

People's disaffection with him began at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, where he won the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and anchored the US 400-meter relay team to victory - the same four events Owens won at the 1936 Berlin Games. What upset the 100,000 spectators, many of whom booed, was Lewis' failure to take his final four attempts in the long jump.

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