A Beaming Beamon

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Unknown athlete sets track record

by Mike Morrison
Bob Beamon, 1968 Olympics

Bob Beamon at the 1968 Mexico City games. (Source: AP)

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Some sports moments simply defy all reasonable comprehension—Mickey Mantle blasting a 565-foot home run, Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, and Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open by 15 strokes. But the feat that may top them all came on Oct. 18, 1968, at the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Between 1935 and 1968, the world long jump record increased exactly eight and one-half inches. Coming into the Olympics, the world record was 27 feet, 4¾ inches, shared by American Ralph Boston and Soviet Igor Ter-Ovanesyan. In six seconds, that all changed.

Bob Beamon, a 22-year-old New York native, barely qualified for the Olympic long jump finals after fouling in two of his qualifying runs. Fortunately, he did.

The following day in the finals, Beamon took off down the runway in the thin air of Mexico City. After exactly 19 loping strides, he hit the board perfectly, stretched out with his legs and flew through the air like no one ever had. And finally, he hit the sand in the pit below—29 feet, 2½ inches later!

He leapt out of the pit, knowing he had done something special. Not only was he the first long jumper in history to reach 28 feet. He also became the first to reach 29 feet. He shattered the world record by an unbelievable 21 ¾ inches. When the distance was given by stadium announcers, Beamon was so excited and emotionally drained that doctors claim he suffered a "cataplectic seizure."

"Compared to this jump, we are as children," Ter-Ovanesyan said.

Some critics devalued the jump, claiming the rarified air and the wind of 2.0 meters per second was more responsible for the record. But all the other competitors jumped in the same elements and strangely, none of them came close.

The record lasted almost 23 years until Aug. 30, 1991 when American Mike Powell jumped 29-4½ at the World Championships in Tokyo.

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