Every summer when Laura and I walk into the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, we stand in awe looking at a long graphic marking of one of the greatest achievements in sports history. Stretching across the floor in the Visitor’s Center, the 29′-2 1/2″ world record long jump of Bob Beamon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics is forever honored. The vast distance one man flew sits just outside the Center’s auditorium where the Sports Photography Workshop staff presents their work nightly.
Beamon’s famous long jump broke the world record by nearly two feet. Somehow the markings on the floor from takeoff to landing always remind me that the distance seemed impossible for a human being to achieve. For 23 years, Beamon’s mark remained untouchable. People began to refer to any remarkable feat as being “Beamonesque.”
The main subject of this week’s Images eventually began a quest for that Holy Grail distance. Carl Lewis touched off one of the greatest periods in track and field history. Lewis set out to break Beamon’s long jump record along with world records in the 100 and 200 meter dashes. He only accomplished breaking the 100 meter record, but along the way won nine Olympic gold medals and one bronze medal.
Lewis alone made people notice track and field even outside Olympic years. However, for real theatrics, he needed rivals to raise the attention to a point the stands at track meets were full wherever he competed. Larry Myricks proved to be up to the task of nearly matching Lewis jump for jump in the battle to surpass Beamon’s magical mark.
The Arizona Republic flew me to Los Angeles to photograph Lewis and Myricks attempting to leap to glory at the Pepsi Meet at UCLA on May 16, 1982. Fans filled the stands and photographers lined every inch of the landing pit, making it impossible to give up a good position to try different angles. Lewis leaped 28′-3″ to win the event. Tantalizingly close, but almost a foot short of Beamon’s mark.
Lewis’ long quest for the Brobdingnagian mark culminated at the World Championships in Tokyo in 1991. Lewis eclipsed the Beamon record with a jump of 29′-2 3/4″, but the wind-aided jump could not stand as a record. Mike Powell then accomplished what once seemed impossible, leaping 29′-4 1/4″ to set a new world record that stands to this day. Lewis followed with a legal jump of 29′-1 1/4″, short of Beamon’s and Powell’s new mark.
Even without the long jump record, the title of “World Athlete of the Century” goes with Lewis’ long list of accolades. Another man at the meet 23 years ago once held the title of the “World’s Greatest Athlete” after winning the 1976 Olympic decathlon. All his notoriety then might fall short of the attention paid today to one of social media’s most talked about personalities – Bruce Jenner.