Optical device was unable to measure Beamon’s leap

Bob Beamon never won multiple gold medals nor did he set plenty of world records. But with one perfect jump, described as the ‘leap of the century’, the burly American etched his name in Olympic history.

A world record that stood for 23 long years, Bob Beamon’s effort (8.90m) in long jump in the high altitude of Mexico City in 1968 also gave a new adjective ‘Beamonesque’ in sports parlance to describe superlative feats. 

Beamon came to the Olympics as the overwhelming favourite after having won 22 out of the 23 meets he had competed that year. He had a wind-aided 8.39 as his career-best mark.

But the pressure of competing in the Olympics saw him foul his first two attempts in qualifying and he barely made it into the final. Defending champion Lynn Davies, Ralph Boston and Igor Ter-Ovanesyan were in fine form and no one gave Beamon a chance.

But what unfurled in the final was indeed mind boggling. Beamon bettered the existing record (8.35m) by a whopping 55cm, when he jumped and landed near the far end of the sand pit. The optical device was unable to measure the jump, forcing the officials to measure the jump manually!

The whole drama added to the jump’s aura and when the result was announced, Beamon, unfamiliar with the metric measurement, didn’t realise the enormity of his achievement until his coach and fellow competitor Ralph Boston told him that he had broken the world record by almost two feet.

A shocked and emotional Beamon sunk to his knees and had to be helped to his feet by fellow athletes. Defending champion Lynn Davies told Beamon: “You have destroyed this event.”

After winning the gold in Mexico City, Beamon never jumped beyond 8.22m in competitions and his world record was finally broken by fellow American Mike Powell in 1991. But Beamon still holds the Olympic record and his jump was described as one of the five greatest moments of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated magazine. 

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