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Black in the Day…The Longest Jump

October 18, 1968:

On this day Bob Beamon set the world and Olympic long jumping record at 29 ft, 2.5 in at the Mexico City Olympics. 

Robert Beamon was born in South Jamaica, QueensNew York and grew up in the New York Housing Authority’s Jamaica Houses. When he was attending Jamaica High School he was discovered by Larry Ellis, a renowned track coach. Beamon later became part of the All-American track and field team.[vague] Beamon began his college career at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, to be close to his ill grandmother.  After her death, he transferred to the University of Texas at El Paso, where he received a track and field scholarship. In 1965 Beamon set a national high school triple jump record and was second in the nation in the long jump. In 1967 he won the AAU indoor title and earned a silver medal at the Pan American Games, both in the long jump.

In 1968, Beamon qualified for the Olympics in Mexico City. Four months before, he had been suspended from the University of Texas-El Paso track team for refusing to compete against Brigham Young University, a Mormon college with racist policies. This left Beamon without a coach. However, Olympian Ralph Boston began to coach him unofficially. On October 18, 1968, Beamon made Olympic history when he broke the world record for the long jump. Beamon jumped 29 feet, 4 ½ inches, beating the previous record by nearly two feet, setting a record that stood for twenty-three years, and becoming the first man to jump more than 28 feet.

When the announcer called out the distance for the jump, Beamon—unfamiliar with metric measurements—still did not realize what he had done. When his teammate and coach Ralph Boston told him that he had broken the world record by nearly two feet, his legs gave way and an astonished and overwhelmed Beamon suffered a brief cataplexy attack brought on by the emotional shock, and collapsed to his knees, his body unable to support itself, placing his hands over his face. The defending Olympic champion Lynn Davies told Beamon, “You have destroyed this event”, and in sports jargon, a new adjective – Beamonesque – came into use to describe spectacular feats. His world record stood for 23 years until it was finally broken in 1991 when Mike Powell jumped 8.95 m (29 ft. ​4 38 in.) at the World Championships in Tokyo, but Beamon’s jump is still the Olympic record and 51 years later remains the second-longest wind-legal jump in history.

Beamon’s world-record jump was named by Sports Illustrated magazine as one of the five greatest sports moments of the 20th century. Beamon is in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, and when the United States Olympic Hall of Fame started to induct athletes in 1983, Beamon was one of the first inductees.