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Let me tell you about Bob Beamon.

Beamon was a 22-year-old native of New York who competed in the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968.  Though he was a decent competitor, he was certainly no Jesse Owens.  At the games, he didn’t ace his qualifying jumps—in fact, he fouled twice before making the finals.

To set the scene, in the years between 1935 when Jesse Owens set a long jump record (and five others) with an 8.13 meter jump, and the existing 1967 record of 8.35 meters, the men’s long jump record was broken six times by an average of only .04 meters each time.

On October 18, 1968, Beamon stood calmly at one end of the runway.  He ran swifty through the thin air, launched himself perfectly at the line, and landed ... at the 8.90 meter mark.  He had broken the record by an incredible .55 meters—21.7 inches, or about 14 times the usual distance that long jump records were being set.

“When the distance was given by stadium announcers, Beamon was so excited and emotionally drained that doctors claim he suffered a ‘cataplectic seizure.’ “

His record lasted 23 years, and is one of the longest lasting Olympic records this century that I’m aware of (though interestingly, Jesse Owen’s own record lasted 25 years).

You have to wonder, what did Beamon think to himself every time he jumped after setting that record?  Did he think “Is this going to be the time I jump 8.91?” Or did he think “I am never, ever, going to do anything that amazing again?”

Was he humbled and haunted, or driven to do better?  Was he an inspiration or an insurmountable mental barrier to future competitors?

ESPN says: “When he was on the podium receiving his gold medal, Beamon remembers thinking, ‘Where do I go from here?’ Fear of the void seized him. Beamon never again came close to matching his record jump. He barely competed between 1970 and ‘72, saying he had a consistent leg injury. He went back to college, at Adelphi, and graduated with a degree in sociology in 1972. The next year, he joined the new professional track tour and consistently jumped 25 and 26 feet, respectable for most, but not for the world record holder. He faded from the sport.”

One final note: Beamon’s record has never been bested at an Olympics, but was broken in 1991 World Championships by Mike Powell, who jumped ... an additional .05 meters.



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