LONDON (Reuters) - Every day, Olympic long jump champion Dwight Phillips watches a tape of the extraordinary leap into the future with which Bob Beamon took the world record into the stratosphere.
“I watch it every day as part of my motivation,” Phillips told a teleconference hosted by the U.S. Olympic committee in the buildup to the Beijing Games. “I watch it everywhere. I’ve watched it a thousand times.”
Beamon’s record of 8.90 meters, set at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, lasted 23 years. It is possibly the greatest Olympic track and field record; it is indisputably the most spectacular.
“I can’t believe it’s 40 years,” Beamon told the teleconference. “It was an incredible day. It was one of the few times in my life that I felt I was going to be a champion.
“I had an incredible spirit of life, if it snowed, if it rained, whatever, I was basically prepared to jump in any kind of weather.”
Beamon graduated from a troubled childhood in New York City into the turbulent 1960s as an athlete of rare gifts.
In the thin air of Mexico City he trained over 100 meters with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were to stun the world when they bowed their heads and raised their right fists in the black power salute after finishing first and third in the 200 meters final.
“I came to Mexico probably running 10.4 (seconds) and I worked with the great Tommie Smith and John Carlos and I could probably have run 10.00, 10.05, 10.06,” he said.
“That was a key issue for me. What I did was learn the technique with being with the great ones.”
Beamon was almost eliminated in the preliminary rounds, fouling the first of his three jumps. Team mate Ralph Boston, the 1960 Olympic gold medalist, intervened.
“He told me to move it (the starting mark) back a couple of feet,” Beamon said. “If I hadn’t listened to him I probably would not have made the final.”
Rain threatened on October 18, the day of the final, and the first three jumpers fouled. Beamon was fourth and the first sign that something extraordinary was in prospect was the height he reached through the air. He hit the sand with such force that he bounced out of the pit and officials called for a steel tape to check the distance.
For several minutes, Beamon waited and then, when the metric distance was flashed on the scoreboard, he had to wait some more until Boston converted it into 29 feet 1-1/2 inches. It bettered the previous mark held by Boston and Igor Ter-Ovanesyan of the Soviet Union by 21-3/4 inches.
American Mike Powell, who set the current record of 8.95 meters in Tokyo in August 1991, is still the only other jumper to reach 8.90 meters.
“Even 40 years later athletes like myself are still trying to reach that great milestone of 29 feet,” said Phillips, who won bronze at last year’s world championships. “I think in 2060 they will still be remembering this great athlete.”
Beamon said he believed in progress.
“I want to see them break 29 feet, I want them to break 30 feet,” he said. “I don’t want them to be like me, I want them to be better than me.
“If Dwight comes along and does a 30-foot jump, hey. I wish him well.”
Editing by Clare Fallon