Lakes competed for the Illinois Fighting Illini men's gymnastics in college. In 1984, he won the NCAA gold medal for high bar. He left college in 1986 to concentrate on making the Olympic team in 1988.
Lakes was a member of the 1985 and 1987 World Gymnastics Championships U.S. teams.
In 1988, Lakes was criticized by some gymnasts, including Kurt Thomas for not training enough. However, Lakes won gold at Nationals on the floor exercise. At Olympic Trials, Lakes finished first overall. In the Olympics he was the only American gymnast to make it to a final (the all around, where he finished 19th).
Lakes took 1989 off and then returned to competition in 1990.
Lakes was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2003.
Lakes was noted for his very high amplitude of releases and dismounts off the high bar. According to sources, his Tkachev (reverse hecht) and Jaeger salto may be the highest ever done.
Lakes was the first black American gymnast to compete in the Olympics. (Ron Galimore was the first African-American selected for the Olympics, but because of the 1980 boycott, he never competed.)
In the Olympic runup, Lakes told Deseret News that he grew up around whites and idolized a white gymnast, Mitch Gaylord. He said that he had not had racial problems in the sport and that he was not black "in terms of separating myself or black pride", but that he did embrace being a role model for younger minority athletes.
Lakes spoke to NBC in 1988:
I think of myself as a gymnast first. But I am black, and as a result I am a role model and I, I embrace that position. So if I can help other black kids, other minority kids, whatever, get to a level in something like gymnastics where they can have a quality of life, I think that would be great.
That same year, he told JET magazine, "I think Debi Thomas (Olympic skater) was wrong when she said she was not a role model for blacks. Whether she wanted to or not, she is a role model, and people were looking up to her."
Lakes is a Scientologist. He asserts that auditing has helped his performances. He has toured, touting Dianetics.
Lakes grew up in Southern California. He and his father currently own and operate an insurance agency, Humanonmics.
- http://www.nbcuniversalarchives.com/nbcuni/clip/5112655114_s34.do and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mltpi4G4KmQ