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An old knee injury had flared up again at the end of the high school year, and this might have had consequences on his fitness.

Lewis worked with Tellez and adapted his technique so that he was able to jump without pain, and he went on to win the 1980 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title with a wind-assisted jump of 8.35 m (27 ft 4​ Though his focus was on the long jump, he was now starting to emerge as a talent in the sprints.

Lewis was a dominant sprinter and long jumper who topped the world rankings in the 100 m, 200 m and long jump events frequently from 1981 to the early 1990s.

He set world records in the 100 m, 4 × 100 m and 4 × 200 m relays, while his world record in the indoor long jump has stood since 1984.

Tellez would thereafter remain Lewis' coach for his entire career.