The 1968 Summer Olympics saw some unforgettable moments. There were some controversial ones, such as the Black Power salute on the winner’s pedestal. But there were also some amazing accomplishments in sport. Perhaps the greatest of all was Bob Beamon completely shattering the long jump record.
Beamon was a good long jumper. When you look at his overall career average, that’s about all you can say about him. But what he did was choose the perfect time to make the longest jump of his career, one that would change the history of the sport.
He nearly missed even getting into the event. He fouled on his first two qualifying jumps, and decided to start his last one well behind the line to be safe. He managed to get in easily at that point.
But he made it. And on his first jump in medal competition, he went 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches. That was officially measured as 8.90 meters.
Long jumping at the time (as well as now) was a sport where records are set frequently, by fractions of an inch (or centimeter, if you prefer).
Beamon beat the existing world record by one foot, ten and-a-half inches.
Let’s put that into perspective. Imagine someone (free of steroids) hitting 80 home runs in a year. Imagine a 75-yard field goal. Imagine someone running the 100 meter dash in eight seconds. The jump was so long that it had to be measured with a tape, as it was beyond the capability of the electronic measuring system.
Beamon’s astronomical slaying of the world record led to a new adjective describing a feat that far surpasses anyone’s expectations: Beamonesque.
Beamon’s second-best career jump was 27 feet, 3 1/2 inches. After the Olympics, he never cleared 27 feet again. His record stood for 22 years in a sport where records had been routinely broken every four or five years.
But his opportunistic choice of the Summer Olympics in which to make the jump of his life cemented him in history as the one long jumper that most folks have heard of. It also got an adjective named after him. Not a bad achievement in a few seconds.