By ELLIOTT DENMAN
Carl Lewis has been gone from the Olympic stage nearly a dozen years now - can you believe how quickly those years have flown by?
But he's obviously not been forgotten.
Certainly not by those Aggie Stadium-goers who gave "King Carl" a greeting worthy of royalty at the third and concluding session of the Nike Outdoor Nationals last Saturday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
They cheered everything the nine-time Olympic gold medalist said - in a midfield , mid-meet interview session conducted by Larry Rawson, the celebrated voice of TV track.
Early on, they formed up hundreds deep and waited patiently on an autograph line back of the stands as Lewis smilingly signed their proffered t-shirts, spiked shoes, wamrmup flats, backpacks, banners, posters, postcards and what-nots.
And then they formed up all over again, an hour later, as Lewis returned from the midfield, meet-the-crowd session to start signing a second time.
In a sport that seems to thrive on celebrating its faster-higher-stronger record-smashers at a frenetic pace, and relegating its former occupants of the record book to the trash heap with equal speed, Lewis remains his sport's great exception.
They may ask "what-have-you-done-for-me lately?" of others, but not of the Willingboro, NJ High School/University of Houston/Santa Monica track Club flash who seemed to do it all, and never with greater certainty than at his sport's greatest occasions.
Autograph-seeker after autograph-seeker knew just why they were paying homage to "King Carl." Even some who may have been just past toddler-hood when Lewis finally "hung 'em up."
"I mean, he's one of those guys who never gave up," said David Krinjak of Manchester High School in Connecticut. ""Like they were saying, when he was of our age (high school) he just put his mind to it. He was just amazing the way he did it, year after year."
"One thing I've noticed, just talking about him when he was starting out in high school, he had that inner kind of fire, he just kept going and going and going," said Derrick Ingleston of Colonie, N.Y. High School. " He gave it everything, every race, every jump, no matter what meet he was competing in.
"He, along with some of the other greats, got that recognition, the recognition we all strive for, making the impossible possible."
"He was a great runner and he was a great jumper,too, he did it all, whatever it took," said Patrick DeWalt, of Albion, Michigan High School.
"Carl was always so hard-working and so very-very determined; he knew what he wanted and went after all his goals," said John Hilgard of Pope John XXIII High School, Sparta, NJ.
Greg Moore, also of Pope John XXIII High, put it this way: "Carl was The Man. Look at his jumps, four straight gold medals; the nine gold medals total says it all. Look at all his races. He was beyond words. He was our sport's hero, a superhero."
"Carl Lewis, I guess you could say he just had a God-given gift, but he took that gift and literally ran with it." said Robert Corbitt, of DeMatha High School in Hyattville, Maryland. ""He was the all-around greatest American sprinter, the 100, 200, 400, the 4x1, the 4x4, and the long jump, I mean he did it all."
"He was just the best, the best of all time, he knew what he wanted and worked harder than anybody else," said Steven Hawkins Kenwood High School in Tennessee.
"A phenomenal jumper, the best American jumper that ever lived, that's what he was, and a phenomenal runner, too," said Mike O'Glary, who coaches at Hameline University in Minnesota.
"On top of that, he's such a great ambassador for our sport. It's not just his skill and ability, but also his personality, his charisma. It kind of builds all into one. That's why we're here, on this long line. It's not every day that you get the chance to go and see Carl Lewis. It's a chance of a lifetime."
"Watching his tapes, breaking down all things he does, that's a great way to learn, you might as well learn from the best, the man who's mastered it," said Kansas State recruit Austin Delaney of St Lous Park High School, Minnesota.
"From the things I've read and seen about him, he probably started out not being the best athlete, but he worked hard and endured all the trials and tests, that's what separated him from the pack," said Ohio coach Andre McCray. " He's such a good inspiration to the young people coming up."
At Greensboro, Peter Cava served on the media team providing internet insights into all the boys event finals.
For many previous years, however, Cava served as media and public information director of the sport's Indianapolis-based governing bodies, first The Athletics Congress and then USA Track and Field.
Lewis, of course, was a primary newsmaker and media magnet during Cava's TAC and USATF tenure
"Carl Lewis was what Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle were to baseball, a few years ago, someone who dominated, who came along with incredible talent and was a crowd draw," said Cava.
"He drew the people to the sport, much the way Tiger Woods does to golf right now.
"He was like Halley's Comet, a superstar who comes along in a set number of years."
True to his unofficial ambassadorial designation, Lewis stayed in diplomatic mode.
Question: "Who's your pick in the Olympic 100 meters?"
Lewis: "You know what, I'm not in the position to do that. It would be unfair for me to do that. We do know the top three. But if I said, blah-blah-blah, I'd hear it. Of course,I'm always rooting for the Americans, that's a given. But I'm not going to put anybody out there like that.
"If I said somebody out there is going to win it, people are going to say he's putting on pressure.
"You know what I want? I want it to be a good competitive race, where everybody shakes hands before the race, and again after…and no one tests positive…
"That's what I want, that's it, everything else is gravy."
Question: "What do you think of (Panamian long jumper) Irving Saladino (called the gold medal choice as well as a 30-foot candidate) ? "
Lewis: "You know what, I've seen him jump one time and he reminds me a lot of (former Cuban star) Ivan Pedroso.
"He has the talent. But the biggest issue with the long jumpers today is they have to work on their run a lot more, they've got to be more consistent. Of course, I hope someone jumps far in Beijing.
"I'm not trying to throw Mike Powell (the world record-holder since 1991) under the bus or anything, but it's time to move the long jump past what we did. I'd love to see somebody break the world record. I hope so."
But diplomacy, Lewis-style, had its limits.
Question: "How about all the talk that track will be superseded by other sports, such as gymnastics and swimming, at Beijing? "
Lewis: "Well, I'm back now. The King is back You heard it first. A lot of exciting things are going to be announced. Absolutely. Let's have this conversation again in another four years."