Bob Beamon, the 6 ft 3 in, 11 stone athlete from the USA created history at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 by clearing 8.90 metres i.e. 29 ft 2 ˝ in in the long jump event. He beat the old world record by an unbelievable 21 inches.
Twenty-two years old, Beamon was on a Basketball and Athletics scholarship at the Texas El Paso University when he qualified for a place in the US team for the Mexico Olympics. He had jumped a surprising 27 ft 6 ˝ in the qualifiers and had thus raised hopes of a record-breaking jump at the Games. No jumper in the world had till then approached the 28 ft barrier.
Beamon was pitted against the best jumpers of his time in the final of the long jump event at Mexico. There was his compatriot and world record holder, Ralph Boston from the USA, Igor Ter-Ovanesyan of Russia – the joint world record holder, and Lynn Davis, the Welshman who held the Olympic, European and Commonwealth records. “Don’t get Bob Beamon mad,” said Ralph Boston, as the best long jumpers in the world warmed up for their event. “He’s likely to jump clear of the pit.” Boston knew Beamon well for he had unofficially coached him before the Olympic qualifiers. In fact Beamon got himself mad by fouling his first two jumps in the heats, and then scrambling into the final stages with a barely satisfying third jump. He decided that he had to do something extraordinary in his first jump of the finals if he had to put psychological pressure on the other experienced jumpers.
In the finals, on the 18th of October 1968, the three superstars fouled their first jumps. Beamon, under an overcast sky, took a deep breath and launched into his 19-yard approach run. It was now or never. He was just a blur as he hit the board, and his take off was spectacular. He space-walked and landed at the far end of the sand pit, beyond the range of the electric eye. The judges had to ask for an old-fashioned steel tape to measure the jump.
As Beamon kissed the ground and then looked up to the sky to thank God for the record breaking effort, a veteran sports writer announced in the Press Box, “ Gentlemen, I believe we have just witnessed the first 28 foot long jump in history.” The electronic scoreboard however revealed, to everybody’s surprise, that Beamon had in fact jumped past 29 feet, and into the 21st century.
After that fantastic effort, the reigning Olympic champion, Davis glanced at a stunned Ralph Boston and said, “I can’t go on. What’s the point?” Boston remained silent; so did the Russian star, Ovanesyan. The silver medal in the long jump event at Mexico went to East German, Klaus Beer who was 2 ft 4 in behind Beamon.