A few years later in the garden of the family home in New Jersey, the growing Lewis used a tape measure to mark out Bob Beamon’s world long jump record and eyed the distance with some incredulity.
There marked the transition from dreamy youngster to focused, supreme athlete, and his crowning career moment came at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Lewis had been a prodigious talent at the University of Houston and qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow for the long jump and the 4x100m relay. However, the U.S.-led boycott meant he would play no part.
The following year he won the 100m and the long jump at the U.S. Nationals and in 1983 at the first world championships the elegant Lewis won both events and helped the American quartet to sprint relay gold.
Lewis was the talk of the track and field world as the clock ticked down to the Los Angeles Games, and he revelled in the attention.
He was entered in four events and was in serious danger of emulating the iconic feat of Jesse Owens, who won four titles at the 1936 Games in Berlin.
He opened his account by clocking 9.99secs to win the blue riband 100m gold, winning by a record two-yard margin.
Next up was the long jump which he won with his opening effort. He hadn’t been beaten in 36 previous contests and he regularly jumped 28-feet plus.
He incurred the wrath of some of the crowd when he understandably rested for the final four rounds of the event but his second gold medal was safely in the bag.
Lewis was widely regarded as the finest bend runner on the planet and was a red-hot favourite for his next event, the 200m.
Indeed the bend was barely finished when Lewis had claimed victory so impressive was his start and opening burst. He won in an Olympic record 19.80secs leaving just the relay in which to equal Owens’ legendary feat.
With Sam Graddy and Ron Brown, who finished second and fourth in the individual 100m, and world record holder Calvin Smith, it would have been brave men to bet against the Americans. And they didn’t disappoint.
By the time Lewis received the baton he was clear of second-placed Jamaica and he crossed the line to smash the world record in 37.83secs. It was a mark that would stand for six years.
Lewis had completed his sweep of golds in perfect fashion, and the packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum rose as one to applaud him.
He would go on to secure nine gold medals in his Olympic career, emulating fellow athlete Paavo Nurmi, which remained a joint record until Michael Phelps smashed all Games records with his haul of 18.