Carl Lewis, who runs forward as fast as any American, had to do some quick backtracking after suggesting that Florence Griffith Joyner used performance-enhancing drugs.

Lewis made the statement, also implicating Griffith Joyner's former coach, Bob Kersee, last week during a question-and-answer session after a speech at the University of Pennsylvania. Lewis was said to be unaware a student reporter for the Daily Pennsylvanian was taping his remarks.According to the newspaper's transcript of the tape, this is what Lewis said when asked if Griffith Joyner used drugs:

"I actually do know, and I know from some very reliable sources, but see, it's a very sensitive situation. Because I think in the United States, we have probably more women on drugs than men, and they really play a mean game. I don't think we should really blame Florence. I think that's the situation of her former coach. Not her coach now, Al (Joyner). I think that (former) coach should be put out of the sport because I believe he tries to put everyone he knows on drugs."

When the paper hit the stands, Lewis' agent, Joe Douglas, issued an immediate apology.

"I don't think it is proper to accuse specific individuals of drug use in the press, and have never done so," Lewis said in a statement. "I do not have personal knowledge of drug use by Florence Griffith Joyner or Bob Kersee. If my comments were construed that way, I am sorry."

The apology was too late. Of course Lewis' comments were construed that way. Several British papers had splashed the story all over their pages by midweek.

Griffith Joyner, in Paris to receive an award, said she would like to talk to Lewis before taking action, legal or otherwise.

"I'm surprised someone of that stature would make statements like that," she said. "There is so much jealousy in the sport, but I didn't think I would hear anything like that from Carl Lewis. I think he is trying to slander me. This isn't the first time I have heard those rumors, and I'm sure it won't be the last."

Griffith Joyner's burst into brilliance this year, culminating with two world records and three Olympic gold medals, has attracted endless rumors. Her answer is the negative results from the half-dozen doping tests she had at the U.S. Olympic trials and Games.

Lewis' statements have served only to besmirch further a sport in which all spectacular performances are being questioned as a result of Ben Johnson's disqualification for steroid use after winning the Olympic 100-meter final.