Olympic Gold Medalist:  STEVE LEWIS

Video: “400 Meters—1988 Olympics Gold



STEVE LEWIS Web-Exclusive Interview

with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David


Music and sports have always been connected. The Olympics is the world stage spotlight for athletes, and music continues to be a driving force for an athlete’s preparation—and for their final gold-winning performance.


Steve Lewis is an American track and field athlete, and the winner of three gold medals in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Music has played an important role in his life—not only in training, but also leading up to the competition event.


In the 1988 Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXIV Olympiad, 19 year-old Steve Lewis’ 43.87 gold medal run was forever immortalized in the 400m track and field event. Three days later, his second gold medal as a pivotal member of USA’s 4x400m relay team obliterated the competition, and equaled the world record of 2:56:16 made 20 years earlier at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

Steve Lewis - 6 - Ooofball

Thursday September 28, 1988 is a date for the history books. The summer games that year were held between September 17 and October 2, and Butch Reynolds was favored to win. But Lewis’ inspirational run was an international story. His tale of triumph and excellence in sport, reaching the pinnacle—the Gold Medal in the international Olympics, is an inspiration to all.


In late September 1988, Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was on top of the Billboard charts. The year started off with Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” at Top 40’s Number 1. And after a string of songs from Michael Jackson, including “The Way You Make Me Feel” to George Michael’s “One More Try,” Steve Winwood topped the Top 40 charts for four weeks leading up to the Olympics with the sensational R&B “Roll With It Baby” (that classic Memphis sound delivered by the renowned Memphis Horns backing him up on that hit).


Music has also played an important role in sports and television. Charles Fox (who wrote the theme for the TV show Love American Style and the music for “Killing Me Softly with His Song”—also wrote the ABC Sports’ triumphant track that accompanied the narration “Spanning the globe … the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat” voiced by host Jim McKay.


Today, the 400m competition begins at the 2016 Olympics in Rio (Brazil). As the world celebrates the best athletes, Steve Lewis tells us how music inspired his journey to be the best in the world. His story helps to inspire a new generation—whether they are athletes, musicians or any other career where people strive to use their talents to reach personal goals.


Steve Lewis - 1What part did music play in your daily Olympics preparation?

Music played a huge role in my daily workouts. On my way to practice, I would crank songs with heavy bass to help get me in the right state of mind. In the weight room, my teammates and I would be dancing to the sounds of R&B and hip hop, in between sets, which actually helped with our workout recovery. The dancing would keep our muscles loose.


Was there a favorite song that inspired your preparation for the 1988 Seoul Olympics?

Actually, I was inspired by several songs. When I arrived in Seoul, I stayed in the Olympic Village. It was like a mini city. And like most cities, the village offered a variety of entertainment options for the athletes. If I wasn’t sitting around playing cards or joking with your teammates, I could play video games at the community activity area, watch TV or access one of the computers. Whenever I was in the village, I usually preferred to fly solo. Instead of hanging out a lot, I would listen to my music and take walks around the compound. The best time to do this was at night. I would walk by the housing areas of the different national teams, and since they spoke in their native tongue, which I didn’t understand, I tried to imagine what they were talking about and how they must feel being part of this incredible moment. Taking these nightly strolls became a ritual in between each of my rounds of competition. They were about as therapeutic as the massages after my races. Following dinner, I would grab my CD Walkman and head out. Listening to my music played a huge part in getting me ready for competition. At that time, my playlist included songs from Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel, Loose Ends’ Zagora and Soul II Soul’s Keep on Movin’.


In high school track, what music inspired you?

In high school, I listened to all sorts of music. My favorite artists were Prince, Eric B. & Rakim, Anita Baker and Michael Jackson.


While a stand-out at UCLA, what music inspired you to reach new heights—and excel?

While at UCLA, I was really into R&B and hip hop. All of it pretty much kept my blood pumping and my legs turning around the track.


The Olympic Village is a microcosm of the world. Which music from another country inspired you the most?

When I wasn’t listening to my own playlist, I did enjoy hearing the musical sounds from the other countries—especially reggae by the Jamaicans.


Some athletes use music to warm up before a race—to drown out the world. Did you listen to a particular song before your world record 400m gold run?

Yes, I listened to Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.” It got me hyped about going out onto the track and showing the world that I was not just some young kid. Instead, I was strong, determined and very capable of competing well.


Which song lyrics inspired or motivated you to reach higher heights?

Whenever I mentally prepared for a race, I would listen to Soul II Soul’s title track, “Keep on Movin’.” The music and words to the song would allow me to take a breath, settle down and tap into my inner sanctum, the place inside that gave me the will and the courage to overcome anything.


Certain songs remind people of high school, a first date, or another important event. Which song reminds you of your historic Olympic run?

Any song from Loose Ends, during that time, brings up fond memories of Seoul 1988—especially “Watching You.”

 Steve Lewis - 4

Name the Top 5 Musicians who continue to inspire you.

Earth Wind & Fire, Sheila E., Mary J. Blige, Adele, Prince


Running the 400m requires balance of strength and endurance, and knowing the right time to make your move. In a musician’s life, as in other professions, it’s all about finding balance. How were you able to find it—to reach gold?

That’s a great question. It’s really about trial and error and having confidence. I believe that confidence has less to do with wanting to succeed; instead, it has more to do with knowing you have to. When I was competing, I felt like I had to take advantage of my God-given talent and not let it go to waste. So whenever I had the opportunity to step into the starting blocks, I was going to shoot out with the desire and will to do my very best.


Tell us about “the thrill of victory” in your 400m gold medal run. What feelings raced through your mind when you finally realized what you had just accomplished?

The thrill started before I crossed the finished line. As I pressed down the final homestretch, I thought about all of my family and friends back in the U.S. that must’ve been watching with amazement. I thought about how proud they must be. When I crossed the line and realized I had won, I felt like I was on top of the world. It took a while for it to sink in. It didn’t really happen until I took my victory lap and I came across my mother and grandfather on the backstretch cheering from the stands. When I saw my mother’s tears of joy, I knew she was really proud—and that’s what mattered most to me.


How did you handle success at such an early age?

Fortunately, I was surrounded by a lot of great teammates that kept me grounded. I ran for Santa Monica Track Club, and travelled with Carl Lewis, Johnny Gray, Danny Everett, Mike Marsh, Kevin Young and Leroy Burrell. They were all Olympic Medalists and World Record Holders with a lot of worldly experiences. They pretty much kept me on the right track.


Steve Lewis - 3Is there anything you would have done differently to stay in track and field longer?

I can’t say that I would have done anything differently because I believe everything happens for a reason. By changing a part of my past, I may not have enjoyed most of the wonderful experiences I’ve had up to this point. I’m quite happy with how my life has turned out. There were definitely specific events in my past that disrupted the upward trajectory of my athletic career. In 1994 [January 17], I fell down the stairs while trying to get out of the house during a 6.7 magnitude earthquake that struck underneath the community of Northridge, CA. At the time, I was living a few miles away in Calabasas. After being awakened by rumbling and shaking in the early morning hours, I jumped out of bed in panic mode. I did the exact thing you’re not supposed to do during an earthquake; I ran for the front door. My bedroom was located on the second floor, so I had to negotiate some hard marble stairs to get out. As I rushed quickly to exit the house, I slipped on one of the steps and landed hard on my tailbone.


Was it a serious injury?
When I fell down the stairs, I had adversely affected my lower back. Soon after, I went to see a neuro-spine specialist to have an MRI taken on my back. The results showed that I had a collapsed disc at level L5-S1, the disc located between my 5th lumbar and sacrum. I needed surgery—a spinal fusion where he implanted titanium screws. Once the doctor sewed that final stitch, it marked the end of my professional running career. When an athlete starts having trouble with their back, it’s all downhill from there. My posture changed. My movements and stride pattern were different. All of the physical qualities and attributes that were unique to me went away with one slip and fall. Most athletes never leave their sport on their terms. Usually, they are forced out due to some sort of injury or sickness. I’ve had many triumphs and many struggles. With the support of my family, coaches and teammates, I was able to reach the highest level of success in my particular sport. For that—I am thankful.


Steve Lewis - 7Your wife, Tamala Lewis, was a Sony Music recording artist. If you met her in those Olympic years, would any of her songs have inspired you?

Most definitely! When I first met my wife, she told me that she was in a singing group. So, I asked her to sing something for me. When she asked me to choose a song I replied, sing the “Happy Birthday” song. (Laughs) I remember thinking that I had never heard that song sound so sweet. In fact, she could make “Row Your Boat” sound great. She has a beautifully soothing and soulful voice.


After your track and field career, you had the opportunity to work with some amazing musicians, like Mary J. Blige. Tell us how their music continued to inspire you.

Following the 1988 Olympics in Seoul Korea, I was fortunate enough to make the 1992 Olympic team in Barcelona, Spain. At that Olympics, I won two more medals—one Gold and one Silver. Just like in Seoul, I relied on music to keep me focused and motivated. Around that time, I was introduced to the gift of Mary J. Blige’s powerful voice and sexy urban style. A couple of my all-time favorite songs are “Real Love” and “Reminisce.” I became a huge fan. Fast forward some years and I had the opportunity to meet Mary and work with her on a clothing line. My girlfriend at the time, Tamala (now wife) and I developed a clothing line called “Tamash.” We were approached by Stan Lee Media to create urban designs to showcase action characters from an online webisode series they were developing. The series introduced Mary J. Blige as a sexy gun-toting super hero fighting crime in the urban streets. Our company designed a few pieces that had images of Mary and a few of the villains silk screened and embroidered on the front. It was a great experience.


What are your Top 5 favorite albums of all time?

Thriller (1982) – Michael Jackson

Purple Rain (1984) – Prince

Zagora (1986) – Loose Ends

Paid in Full (1987) – Eric B. & Rakim

Lifelines, Vol. 1—Greatest Hits (1989) – Maze featuring Frankie Beverly


Steve Lewis with Mary J. Blige & Tamala Lewis

Steve Lewis with Mary J. Blige & Tamala Lewis

Do you have any words of wisdom to inspire a new generation of athletes and musicians as they strive for excellence?

I would like to share my formula for success. The formula is made up of four essential components. The first component is natural talent. An athlete or a musician that’s blessed with higher-level innate abilities has a greater likelihood of being successful if they work hard. The second is confidence. I continue to believe that confidence has less to do with wanting to succeed; instead, it has more to do with knowing you have to. Whenever I stepped onto the track to compete, I felt a responsibility to perform at my best. That feeling of confidence comes from a place deep within all of us. It’s the same feeling a parent has with their children. They know for certain that nothing will get in their way of protecting and providing for them. It’s not an option. Having the right amount of confidence can make the difference between success and failure. The third is that a person has to be resolute. When a person is resolute they are steadfast, determined and not easily influenced by others. This is probably one of the most important traits because there are plenty of distractions that can and will throw you off track. This can range from the company you keep to the smallest bad habits that can turn into big ones. Growing up in the inner city, I was surrounded by guys that were just as fast a runner as I was, and some were faster. They didn’t make it as far as I did in the sport because they either chose another path to be successful in or they became distracted with negativity. Others just weren’t dedicated—which is the fourth and final component to success. If an individual lacks the dedication to the hard work, they won’t be as successful as a person that sacrifices and devotes their time and energy to being the very best they can be.


Anything else that inspires success?

Yes. While these four components are essential parts of the success equation, there is one important catalyst that is necessary to facilitate the formula’s reaction, and that is “Heart.” Whenever you hear someone comment that an athlete has the heart of a champion, they’re referring to that athlete’s will to succeed—a desire to reach their full potential. The individual that possesses all four parts of the formula for success (natural talent, confidence, being resolute and dedication) will realize the most success. However, the one with the most “heart” will outperform the rest. I truly believe this formula for success applies to all disciplines in life. Whether your natural talent lies in art, music, science or communication, you will perform well as long as you’re passionate about it.


For more information about Olympic gold medalist Steve Lewis and one of the ways he promotes health and wellness, check out his videos:

Steve Lewis - 8 - Barcelona Olympics NBC


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