Jumps from the past

I stumbled on an interesting American website during the week which gave us what it considered to be the best 10 athletics world records.

So, with the triple jump being my favourite event, I was pleased to see that Jonathon Edwards’ jumps in the 1995 world championships in Gothenburg was considered to be one of the 10. I can remember watching the event in a hotel room when we were away on holiday (in Shropshire I think is where we were).

His first jump was 18.16 metres, the first ever legal triple jump over 18 metres, and then his second jump was 18.29 metres – which is still the world record and still the only legal jump over 60 feet. Looking at the jumps again I find myself asking if he was at all concerned about landing in the sand pit with his step phase. Earlier in 1995 he had jumped 18.43 metres in Italy but the wind was over the limit needed for world records. (Interesting that the ladies’ triple jump world record was also set at the 1995 Gothenburg world championships Inessa Kravets from Ukraine with 15.50 metres. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen that jump of hers.)

Every time I see Christian Taylor and Will Claye jump I fear that one of them will take away that world record – but so far they haven’t quite done it. Taylor’s best is 18.21 metres while Claye’s best is 18.14 metres. I don’t think they’ll have any chances to take away the world record this year.

But neither of the above triple jump performances were the website’s choice as the number 1 world record – although their number 1 choice did take place in the sand. American Bob Beamon’s winning 8.90 metres long jump in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.

There is some story behind this performance, starting with the qualifying round. His first qualifying round jump saw him take off a long way over the board for a no-jump. His second jump was a little better but still over the board for a second no-jump. One more foul and his Olympic Games were over. Another American jumper Ralph Boston – who had won the gold medal in 1960 and the silver in 1964 (behind Great Britain’s Lynn Davies) – spoke to Bob Beamon about moving his run-up back. Which he did and this time he took off from the correct side of the board and jumped himself into the final.

Back for the final Bob Beamon was to be the fourth person to jump. Each of the first three jumpers fouled and then it was Bob Beamon’s turn to jump. Fast down the runway, bang on the take-off board, amazingly high and then landing a long way down the sandpit. Then came a problem. There was no sophisticated electronic measuring equipment in those days but there was a modern state of the art optical measuring device. It was moved along a rail alongside the pit. However the implement fell off the rail before it reached the marks in the sand. So they had to find an old-fashioned steel tape, which told them – some 20 minutes after Bob Beamon had landed – that the jump was 8.90 metres. This beat the existing world record of 8.35 metres by 55 centimetres, or nearly 22 inches.

But we’re not at the end of the story. As most of you will be aware the USA measured distances in feet and inches in those days (and still does I believe). So Bob Beamon didn’t really know how far 8.90 metres was. He knew it was long but didn’t know how far he had jumped – he didn’t at first know that he had indeed broken the world record and that he had beaten it by 22 inches. If they had measured distances in feet and inches he’d have seen that he’d jumped 29 feet and 2 inches while the existing world record was 27 feet and 4 inches. So in beating the old record he became not only the first person to jump over 28 feet but the first to jump over 29 feet. And he only realised that he’d done this some 30 minutes after the jump.

And who was the holder of the previous world record ? It was Ralph Boston, the athlete who was instrumental in getting Bob Beamon through the qualifying stages. He himself finished third in Mexico which meant that he’d earned all three colour medals in his Olympic long jump career.

Bob Beamon competed very rarely after this and never jumped anywhere near as far again. His world record lasted for 23 years before it was broken by Mike Powell’s 8.95 metres jump at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo – in what was probably the most exciting World Championships final against Carl Lewis.

When will we see the first 9 metres long jump ?


One thought on “Jumps from the past

  1. alf smart


    Congratulations on a most excellent article.

    A piece of history which is still with us today.

    Alf .

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