On a magical day at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Bob Beamon proved that humans could fly when he broke Jesse Owens' world long jump record on Track & Field’s grandest stage.
Beamon lept 29 ft 21⁄4 , which remained the world record for 22 years, 316 days until it was broken by fellow American Mike Powell at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.
Beamon's jump however, is still the Olympic record and 47 years later remains the second longest wind legal jump in history.
TSL had a chance to speak with Beamon at a recent event for The Buoniconti Fund to fight spinal cord paralysis at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC.
"I always thought that records are made to be broken," Beamon told The Shadow League. "I’ve been pretty darn lucky that the record is still around. It’s the oldest Olympic Record in the book, so it’s pushing a half century. I’m looking forward to the 50 years."
Beamon is from South Jamaica, Queens home of LL Cool J, Run DMC (Hollis) and The Feurtado Brothers. He attended Jamaica High School, once renowned for its track program and was discovered there by legendary coach Larry Ellis. Under Eliis' masterful tutelage, Beamon became a rising star in the sport.
In 1965, he ranked second in the long jump in the United States, and received a track and field scholarship to the University of Texas at El Paso.
Despite dealing with the racial tensions and the toxic, biased and presumptuous culture of American college life back in the 60s, Beamon was also growing up on the edge of a new, militant, younger black generation, who questioned their assumed sub-standard denomination in society, rebuked the system of oppression and fought for equal rights and education.
In fact, Beamon was suspended from UTEP, for refusing to compete against Brigham Young University, alleging it had racist policies.
Beamon’s actions are considered old school, warrior maneuvers in today’s climate. It left him without a school and a coach and the Olympic Games were a few years away. Beamon stood by his principles and kept it moving. Fellow Olympian Ralph Boston became his unofficial coach.
In 1965 Beamon set a national high school triple jump record. In 1967 he won the AAU indoor title and earned a silver medal at the Pan American Games, both in the long jump.
The distance of Beamon’s jump may have been unfathomable, but the fact that he took gold wasn’t that much of a story. Beamon entered the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City as a 22-year-old favorite, having won 22 of the 23 meets he had competed in that year.
The magnificence, magnitude and long-standing omnipotence of his performance was surreal. The way Mother Nature inflicted the rain shortly after his jump to ensure that no competitor snatch Beamon’s moment in history...well that was fate.
Bob Beamon, now 69, reflects on that incomparable memory.
“The day was a very typical day in Mexico. The sun shines in the morning, rains in the afternoon. I just so happened to be lucky enough to jump before break. And then of course, I jumped 29” 2 ½ inches and we only expected to go as high as 28 feet. Up to today, I don’t know where the extra foot came from. I was just ready to win a gold. I wasn’t looking to break a record, but I’ll take it."
The US has failed to win an Olympic Gold in the men’s long jump in three of the last four Olympic Games and that troubles Beamon:
"The younger guys...it’s unfortunate that we didn’t place higher in The Olympic Games in London in 2012. It’s somewhat unfortunate and that hasn’t happened in...I can’t remember . There needs to be a lot of work done with the track and field program with those areas. I don’t know if this was their first time competing at that level or they just had some bad days. But the guys from London (gold medal winner Greg Rutherford from Great Britain) did really well and can jump in all weather. Maybe we need to practice jumping on an all-weather field and things will get better."
Maybe Bob’s being a bit hard on the U.S. Program. These guys haven’t delivered a 29-foot flight and they aren’t sweeping podiums, but Will Claye did bring home a bronze last Olympics.
Beamon's frustration stems from a recent lack of bling after decades of Olympic dominance. The long jump become a staple event and a shining example of America's Track & Field dominance. U.S. men have won gold medals in 22 of the 26 Olympics and until recently (2000, 2008 and 2012) had never gone two Olympics in a row without taking the long jump gold medal.
Their most recently gold was in Athens in 2004 when Americans Dwight Phillips and John Moffitt took the top two spots. .
Christian Taylor, however, did manage to win gold in the triple jump in London and Claye took the silver marking the first time in 20 years the U.S. took gold and silver in the that event.
It’s not like the squad isn’t placing on the podium. They just haven’t been blessed with immortality by the sports gods and the perfect circumstance like Beamon was in 1968.