Bob Beamon’s Freakish Long Jump
1968 Mexico Olympic Games
Bob Beamon had a rough childhood. His mother died when he was eight months old and he was repeatedly beaten by his father. He took up athletics when at reform school. At the age of fifteen he entered Junior Olympics and won the long jump event with a leap of 7.34m.
When the long jump event started at the Mexico Olympics, the record stood at 8.35m (27ft 4 3/4in). Bob had jumped 8.39m previously but the record was not awarded to him because of excessive wind assistance. Two of Bob’s competitors were joint world record holders but they knew that if Beamon did his best it would be impossible to beat him.
The final of the long jump arrived. At that altitude and with a tailwind just at its limit, the conditions were perfect for a long jump athlete. After three of his competitors fouled, Bob Beamon set off like a sprint athlete, hit the board perfectly and landed further than anyone had done in history. The optical device which had been installed to measure jump distances was not designed to measure a jump of such length and this forced the officials to measure the jump manually. It was found that the new world record set by Bob Beamon was 8.9m (29ft 2 1/2in). Bob had bettered the world record by 55cm when in the past 33 years the record had advanced by just 22cm. 28ft was considered as the barrier to cross for long jump athletes while Beamon’s jump was more than 29ft.
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 told him that he had broken the record by nearly 2 feet, Beamon fell to the floor and suffered a brief cataleptic seizure brought on by the emotional shock.
Bob Beamon’s jump became known as ‘the leap of the century’. Sports journalist Dick Schaap wrote a book about it, The Perfect Jump. Beamon’s world record stood for 23 years until Mike Powell broke it in 1991. However 44 years later it still remains the second highest recorded jump and an Olympic record.