Bob Beamon c. 1968
On October 18, Beamon set a world record for the long jump with a first jump of 8.90 m (29 ft. 2½ in.), bettering the existing record by 55 cm (21¾ in.). 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 2 feet, his legs gave way and an astonished and overwhelmed Beamon suffered a brief cataplexy attack brought on by the emotional shock, and collapsed to his knees, his body unable to support itself, placing his hands over his face. In one of the more endearing images of the Games, his competitors then helped him to his feet. The defending Olympic champion Lynn Davies told Beamon, “You have destroyed this event,” and in sports jargon, a new adjective – Beamonesque – came into use to describe spectacular feats.
Prior to Beamon’s jump, the world record had been broken thirteen times since 1901, with an average increase of 6 cm (2½ in.) and the largest increase being 15 cm (6 in.). His world record stood for 23 years until it was finally broken in 1991 when Mike Powell jumped 8.95 m (29 ft. 4⅜ in.) at the World Championships in Tokyo, but Beamon’s jump is still the Olympic record and 49 years later remains the second longest wind legal jump in history. One journalist called Beamon “the man who saw lightning.” Sports journalist Dick Schaap wrote a book about the leap, The Perfect Jump.
Beamon landed his jump near the far end of the sand pit but the optical device which had been installed to measure jump distances was not designed to measure a jump of such length. This forced the officials to measure the jump manually which added to the jump’s aura.
Beamon’s world-record jump was named by Sports Illustrated magazine as one of the five greatest sports moments of the 20th century.
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