Carl Lewis donates Olympic, World Championship medals to Smithsonian

20 years after winning his last Olympic gold medal Carl Lewis is ready to share them with the world.

Lewis, one of the greatest track and field athletes in the history of the sport, donated his Olympic and World Championship medals to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

The grand opening of the Smithsonian’s 19th museum is Sept. 24.

“I was watching National Geographic (in 2009),” Lewis said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. The curator came on and talked about the new African American Museum. So I said ‘what if I just left my medals to them.’ If I did that people could see them. No one would have to ask me where they are. Then everyone could enjoy them.

“To me it isn’t that I’m giving the medals away. It’s that I’m sharing them.”

And Lewis is sharing a historic amount of material.

He won 10 Olympic medals, nine gold.

Lewis also has 10 medals, eight gold, from the World Championships.

Medals are not the only items Lewis is donating to the Smithsonian.

“I’m giving all of them, Olympic medals, World Championship medals and over 160 items, actually,” Lewis said.  My Sullivan Award, Olympic awards, all kinds of things, uniforms."

And completing the transfer of just about everything connected to Lewis’ fabulous career was not easy.

“We went through the process in deciding what was best for the museum to have, but also it’s a difficult task because you have to categorize every single item, get everything appraised,” Lewis said.

“It’s a really difficult process. It took about two years to do it.”

The appraisal was for tax purposes.

“The thing is I’m not going to be on this earth forever,” Lewis said. “I just thought ‘wow in a hundred years from now my grandkids and great grandkids could say that’s your great granddaddy,’ or someone will be able to talk about the legacy because they could see those medals and they mean so much to people."

Lewis was a great athlete. He continues to be a great patriot.

“From an American standpoint, they’re Olympic gold medals. They’re World Championship gold medals. That’s something that you did representing the United States, so it’s a part of me sharing that.”

Given the involvement of Lewis’ family in the Civil Rights movement, having a role in this museum makes it even more special for him.

 “A lot of people that know me, know how my parents were so involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s,” Lewis said. “Dr. King was a family friend. Rosa Parks was my mother’s friend. I was born in Birmingham (Alabama) when they called it Bombingham. So I was raised with that whole concept of giving.

“My parents were coaches and teachers in the community. So all I saw was them giving. That’s an important legacy. If I had not been in that environment. If I hadn’t been born in Birmingham, and my parents had not been involved in marches, I wouldn’t be the person that I am.”

Lewis' journey to greatness began when he decided to run track at the University of Houston in 1979, where he is an assistant track coach but does not accept a salary.

At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Lewis’ achievements in track and field will live forever.

“It’s just an amazing thing that I just ran down a track when I was a kid growing up, and then I came to the University of Houston and I ran down a track and jumped in a sand pit,” Lewis said.

“Now all of the sudden people are going to talk about you forever.”