Mike Powell is confident that the next generation of long jumpers would break the nine-metre barrier.
It was Powell who broke Bob Beamon's 23-year-old record (8.9m) with a stupendous leap of 8.95m at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. “That's the distance I jumped. I cannot believe it,” said Powell, as he measured 29ft 4-1/2 inches at the Regal Room, Trident, here on Monday.
The World record holder spoke to The Hindu about the American men's domination of long jump at the Olympics, his idols and his disappointment at coming second to Carl Lewis at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Q: Has long jump appealed to the followers of track and field mainly because of the feats of Jesse Owens, Beamon, Lewis and Powell?
A: Track and field is definitely the highlight of the Olympics. There's interest in long jump because of the records. Hopefully, the next generation will produce someone who can break my record. I don't want to lose it, but I want to see the sport develop.
I worked really hard throughout my career to get to where I am. When I think about that, I am just awed when people mention my name along with those athletes. It is sometimes embarrassing too.
Q: How would you compare the 1988 Seoul Olympics (8.49m) and 1992 Barcelona Games (8.64m) when you finished second to Lewis's gold medal-winning efforts of 8.72m and 8.67m?
A: Seoul was great. I thought I would win a bronze and it was amazing that I took silver. Barcelona hurts the most because I should have won the gold. I was better than Carl then. My training had reached a very high level. But, Carl showed why he was such a great competitor. You may have the talent, but you have to win. Carl showed that he was the champion. Every time I think about the Olympics, and see it on television, it hurts. But, that's part of life.
Q: In hindsight, how would you look at your performances at the Olympics and World Championships?
A: I would rather have the World record. When I look back, I say to myself that I was part of three American Olympic long jump teams. It's very hard to do that. That's amazing in itself.
Q: Americans have dominated the Olympic long jump event. A phenomenal 21 gold medals so far...
A: It's all because of the expectations. When you compete in long jump for the United States, you expect to win a medal because you have to jump a certain distance to make the team in the first place. If you do that, you are in contention for a medal. So when we go to competitions, we ask, “Hey, who is going to win the medal?'' That's how we think from the high school level. That's what I aspired for when I went to the Olympics. Now we have a young generation of jumpers who would do pretty well, maybe not next year, but in the Olympics after London.
Q: Do you think anyone is capable of jumping beyond 9m?
A: Yes…of course. I wish I could get Usain Bolt to jump. He would jump 9 something, if I was his coach! When I look at today's jumpers I don't think they are technically as good as we were. I watched Lewis, Larry Myricks and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. I learned from them. Today's jumpers are different. They go through a coach, but who's going to explain to them what I did.
Q: Lewis won four consecutive golds in long jump… from 1984 to 1996!
A: Carl is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. He was great and I got a chance to compete against him. Jackie is one of the best athletes I have seen, men or women. Both were special.
Q: Jackie is the only American woman who has won a long jump gold at the Olympics…
A: We have a good jumper now in Brittney Reese. She can be a favourite to win the gold at London.
Q: Do you think any woman is capable of jumping 8m?
A: I thought Jackie could have jumped 8m. Marion Jones could have. She did not need to be doing what she was doing.
Q: Who would you name as the best American athlete at the Olympics: Owens or Lewis?
A: I know about Owens, he broke four World records on one day. That's pretty amazing. But, at the same time, Carl was an amazing athlete as well. Both have been very special.
Q: You must have been high on the popularity charts when you created the World record…
A: United States is tough because if you win a gold medal, it's good. But, you have to win gold medals for people to know who you are. I coach high school kids. Thanks to YouTube, the kids' dads know who I am.