The Herculean leap of America into the Olympic spotlight couldn’t have been better illustrated than by Carl Lewis. The track-and-field star was overwhelmingly the most-spotlighted athlete in 1984. The long-jumper and sprinter was thought to be the next Jesse Owens, and not solely because he was competing in the same four events in which Owens had stunned the world in Berlin in 1932. TIME’s cover story put the expectations in a not-so-subtle manner:
“Gentler than a superman, more delicate than the common perception of a strong man, Lewis is physically the most advanced human being in the world, and about to become the most famous global sports figure since Muhammad Ali.”
And Lewis jumped feet first into glory, claiming gold in each of his four events. It was a feat that earned him a second TIME cover two weeks later.