19 July, 2020
Bob Beamon-Mike Powell-Jesse Owens
Bob Beamon-Mike Powell-Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens, Bob Beamon and Mike Powell greatest achievers in the history; Carl Lewis wins unique four Gold medals at back-to-back Olympic Games:

The elite athletes are getting bigger, stronger and faster and the flight techniques - the hang, the sail, and the hitch-kick of the long jump have been tested to the fullest. Yet, gravity seems to be holding our human athleticism, preventing our rising superstars in the world of athletics from being able to jump any farther or any higher. In more times that are recent, the world records for the jumps seemingly have been maxed out.

For some perspective, the world record in the 100m dash has been broken 12 times since the establishment of the new world record for the long jump in 1991. On one hand, this would seem to make sense, as there has to be a scientific limit to what the human body can and cannot do in this arena. If not, is it that the sport has lost its luster over the years and no longer attracts the kind of athletes that would dedicate themselves to the niche competition?

The long jump is the only known jumping event of ancient Greece’s Olympics’ pentathlon events. All events that occurred at the Olympic Games were initially supposed to act as a form of training for warfare. The long jump was considered one of the most difficult since a great deal of skill was required. The long jump has been part of modern Olympic competition since the inception of the Games in 1896 and for women since 1948.

Men’s Long Jump World Record

The IAAF ratified inaugural long jump world record was 7.61m by Peter O’Connor in 1901, which stood almost 20 years. After it was broken, the record changed hands six times until Jesse Owens set the record in 1935 with a leap of 8.13m and same survived 25 years until 1960. Ralph Boston improved on it to 8.21m and exchanged with Igor Ter-Ovanesyan six times over the next seven years and elevated to 8.35.

At the 1968 Summer Olympics Bob Beamon jumped 8.90; a jump not exceeded for 23 years, and remained the second longest legal jump of all time. It has stood as the Olympic record for 52 years. In 1991, Mike Powell of the US set the current world record of 8.95 at the World Championships in Tokyo. It was in a dramatic showdown against Carl Lewis who also surpassed Beamon’s record but his jump was wind-assisted. Powell’s record has now stood for 28 years.

Women’s Long Jump World Record

The women’s world record has seen more consistent improvement, though the current record has stood 32 years, longer than any long jump record by men or women. The longest to hold the record prior was by Fanny Blankers-Koen during World War II who held it for 10 years. There have been three occasions where the record was tied or improved upon twice in the same competition.

The current world record is held by Galina Chistyakova of the former Soviet Union who leapt 7.52 in Leningrad on June 11, 1988.

The First IAAF Recognized World Record of 1901

Peter O’Connor (24.10.1872 -09.11.1957) was an Irish athlete who set the first IAAF recognized long jump world record and won two Olympic medals in 1906. Born in Cumberland, England, he grew up in Wicklow, Ireland. In 1899, he was Irish champion in long jump, high jump and triple jump. The British AAA invited him to represent them at the Olympic Games 1900, but he refused.

On August 5, 1901 he jumped 7.61, which remained as the world record for 20 years. In 1906, O’Connor and two athletes were entered for the Intercalated Games in Athens representing Ireland. However, the rules changed and only athletes nominated by National Olympic Committees were eligible. Ireland did not have an Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Council claimed the three.

In long jump, O’Connor finally met Myer Prinstein, competing for the US team whose world record O’Connor had broken. The only judge for the competition was Matthew Halpin, who was Manager of the US team. O’Connor protested, fearing bias, but was overruled. The distances were not announced until the end of the competition and Prinstein declared the winner and O’Connor had to settle for the Silver.

At the victory ceremony, in protest, O’Connor scaled a flagpole in the middle of the field and waved the Irish flag. At 34, O’Connor won the triple jump to become the oldest ever-gold medal winner in the event. He remained involved in athletics all his life. He was a founder member and later a Vice President of an athletic Club and attended Olympics as both a judge and spectator.

Jesse Owens Jumps for Gold in 1936

Jesse Owens (12.09.1913 - 31.03.1980) from Alabama, USA had a memorable August 4, 1936 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. First, he glided through his 200m heat, setting a new Olympic record of 21.1. Almost immediately, with a leap of just 7.15, he qualified for the long jump final. A year earlier, the then 21-year-old had jumped 8.13, a world record that would stand for 25 years. But, Owens came within centimeters of crashing out.

First, Ovens failed to notice officials raising their flags to signal the start of competition. As a result, his half-hearted run and hop into the sand, part of his warm-up routine, was, much to his disbelief, recorded as his first jump. Now perturbed, the normally unflappable American fouled on his second. Just one jump remained for the heavy favourite to avoid elimination. Up stepped Luz Long, the European record holder with remarkable grace, defying his country’s high command and gave his African American foe invaluable advice.

The German, according to his son, urged Owens to move his take-off mark back well behind the board, reassuring him that he could jump 7.15 ‘in his sleep’. Owens followed Luz Long’s advice and squeaked in to the final. “He was my strongest rival yet it was he who advised me to adjust my run-up in the qualifying round and thereby helped me to win,” Owens said later in life. The new friends dominated the final that evening, dueling dramatically in front of a capacity crowd. Buoyed by his last-round escape from ignominy, Owens jumped 7.74 to lead after round one. Long matched it with his second, only for Owens to respond with a 7.87. Neither man made a further impact until Long delighted his supporters by matching his rival’s leading mark in the fifth round. Having watched Long sportingly calm the crowd, Owens raced down the runway and soared out to 7.94. Long failed with his sixth and final.

In a final show of brilliance, Owens breached the 8m mark, jumping 8.06 in the sixth round, an Olympic record. “What I remember most was the friendship I struck up with Luz Long,” Owens wrote long after the event. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment.” Long died in 1943 during World War II but at the end of hostilities, Owens picked up correspondence with his son, continuing a friendship that he held dear right up until his own death.

Ralph Boston Breaks 27 Feet Barrier in 1961

Ralph Harold Boston, born May 9, 1939 is a US athlete best remembered as the first person to break the 27 feet barrier. Born in Laurel, Mississippi, he broke the world record held by Jesse Owens for 25 years and improved the mark past 27 feet, jumping 27’ 1/2” on May 27, 1961. At the Rome Olympics, he took the Gold in the long jump, setting the Olympic record at 8.12.

He won the National Championship in the long jump six times in a row from 1961 to 1966. He also had the longest triple jump for an American in 1963. He returned to the Tokyo Olympics as the world record holder, after losing the record and regaining the record a couple of months before the Games, first in Kingston, Jamaica and improving it at the 1964 Olympic Trials. In the Olympic final, Boston ended winning the silver medal.

Boston’s final record improvement to 8.35 was in 1965. When rival Bob Beamon was suspended from the University of Texas, Boston began to coach him unofficially. At the 1968 Olympics, Boston watched his pupil destroy the tied world record by jumping 8.90m. He won a bronze behind Beamon and retired from competitions. He was inducted into the US Track and Field and US Olympic Halls of Fame.

Bob Beamon’s Perfect Jump and World Record

Robert Beamon, born August 29, 1946 is a US athlete, best known for his world record in long jump at the Mexico 1968 Olympics. He was born in South Jamaica, New York and broke the world record by a margin of 55cm and his world record stood for almost 23 years. As of 2020, the jump is still the Olympic record and the second longest wind legal jump in history.

Beamon began his college career at North Carolina, to be close to his ill grandmother. After her death, he transferred to the University of Texas, where he received a scholarship. Beamon entered the 1968 Olympics in Mexico as the favorite to win the Gold, having won 22 of the 23 meets he had competed in that year, including a career-best of 8.33. He came close to missing the Olympic final, overstepping on his first two attempts in qualifying. With only one chance left, Beamon made a fair jump and advanced to the final.

On October 18, Beamon set a world record for the long jump with a first jump of 8.90m, bettering the existing record by 55cm. When the announcer called out the distance for the jump, Beamon - unfamiliar with metric measurements - still did not realize what he had done. When his teammate and coach Ralph Boston told him that he had broken the world record by nearly two feet, his legs gave way. An astonished and overwhelmed Beamon suffered a brief cataplexy attack and collapsed to his knees, placing his hands over his face, and in sports jargon, a new adjective- Beamonesque- came into describe his spectacular feats.

Beamon landed his jump near the far end of the sand pit, but the optical device was not designed to measure a jump of such length. This forced the officials to measure it manually, which added to the jump’s aura. Beamon’s world-record jump was named as one of the five greatest sports moments of the 20th century. In 1972, he graduated from Adelphi University. He performed a variety of roles to promote youth athleticism. Beamon is in the US Track and Field and Olympic Halls of Fame.

Four Successive Olympic Golds by Carl Lewis

Frederick Carlton ‘Carl’ Lewis, born July 1, 1961 is a US athlete who won ten Olympic medals including nine Golds and ten World Championships medals including eight Golds. His career spanned from 1979 to 1996. He is one of only three Olympic athletes who won a gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympic Games. In 1999, Lewis was voted “Sportsman of the Century” by the IOC, elected “World Athlete of the Century” by the IAAF and named “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated.

Lewis set world records in the 100m,4x100m and 4x200m relays. His 65 consecutive victories in the long jump achieved over a span of 10 years is one of the sport’s longest undefeated streaks. Over the course of his career, Lewis long-jumped over 28 feet 71 times. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was initially coached by his father. At age 13, Lewis began competing in the long jump and he emerged as a promising athlete. Lewis entered the University of Houston and met Tom Tellez who remained throughout his career.

He was chosen for the US team for 1980 Olympics in the long jump and 4x100m relay team but the boycott precluded him from competing in Moscow. On June 20, 1981, Lewis improved his personal best by leaping 8.62 while still a teenager. Also in 1981, he became the fastest 100m sprinter in the world and won first national titles in the 100m and long jump. On July 24, 1982, Lewis cleared 8.7 at Indianapolis. Then won the first World Championships long jump title with a leap of 8.55 in 1983.

At the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Lewis entered four events with realistic prospects of matching the achievement of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Games in Berlin. Lewis started his quest with a convincing win in the 100m. In his next event, the long jump, Lewis’s first jump of 8.54 won him the Gold. His third gold medal came in the 200m. Finally, he won his fourth in the 4x100m relay when he anchored to tape with a time of 37.83, setting a new world record.

At the 1988 Summer Olympics he secured the long jump with a leapt of 8.72m. The 1991 World Championships long jump final is considered as one of greatest competitions ever. Lewis’ first jump was 8.68, a World Championship record. Lewis jumped 8.83, a wind-aided leap, in the third round. Lewis’s next jump of 8.91 made history, the first leap ever beyond Bob Beamon’s record but was wind-aided though it remains the greatest leap ever. Lewis secured gold medals at Barcelona in 1992 clearing 8.67 and at Atlanta 1996, with a leap of 8.50 to become the first American to win four successive Olympic Games. Lewis retired from track and field in 1997.

Mike Powell’s Leap of 8.95 of 1991

Michael Anthony Powell, born November 10, 1963 is a US athlete and the holder of the world record. He is a two-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He won his Olympic silver medals at Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992. At the Tokyo 1991 World Championships, Powell broke Bob Beamon’s long jump world record by 5cm, leaping 8.95.

Powell’s world record still stands, making Powell the fourth person since 1900 to hold the long jump world record for over 20 years. He also holds the longest non-legal jump of 8.99 (wind-aided +4.4) set at high altitude in Sestriere, Italy in 1992. He won Gold at the 1993 World Championships and secured a bronze at the 1995 World Championships. After the 1996 Olympics, he retired and now coaches long jump permanently at the Academy of Speed in California

(The author possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc; his research interests encompasses Olympic Education, IOC and Sports; recipient of National and Presidential Accolades for Academic and Sports pursuits; his byline appears regularly since 1988)