REMEMBERING MEXICO 1968
On the 50th anniversary of Bob Beamon’s long jump world record, we look back at the memorable moments from the Games
ON THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF BOB BEAMON’S AMAZING LONG JUMP RECORD
IN MEXICO, BOB PHILLIPS REMEMBERS THE GREAT OCCASION
IT HAD been a rather ordinary day of athletics so far. Just the usual preliminary skirmishes which feature at the morning sessions of every major championships, which in this instance involved the start of the decathlon and the heats of the men’s 1500m. In the latter John Whetton and John Boulter had safely qualified but Maurice
Benn hadn’t. In other words, a reasonably satisfactory outcome for Great Britain.
The afternoon’s proceedings – 3pm to 6.10pm – looked promising, but to be frank anyone who had been in attendance on all four previous days of athletics at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in
October of 1968, as I had, could be forgiven for feeling a trifle jaded.
We’d had, by my reckoning, 14 world records so far, aided by the breathless thin air of high altitude. The day before had been surreal with the world record in the men’s triple jump beaten four times by three different athletes.
Now, for the first half-hour of the afternoon, the heats of the women’s 80m hurdles (the last occasion for this distance) and the decathlon shot put were underway. Then at 3.30pm came the final of the women’s 200m and the start of the men’s long jump.
Irena Kirszenstein (later Szewinska) won the 200m and almost inevitably it was another world record – 22.5 by the hand-timing then in use. So no one either in the crowd or the press-box – and there were not many in either – paid much attention to the opening long jumpers. In turn, Hiroomi Yamada of Japan, Victor Brooks of Jamaica and Reinhold Boschert of Germany no-jumped.
Then we took a fair degree more interest. Bob Beamon came prancing down the runway and as he flung himself in raw abandon off the board the thought flashed through my mind of the remark a few weeks before by Ron Pickering, coach to the defending champion, Lynn Davies. “If Beamon gets his steps right,” he said, “we can all go home.”
Well, as the whole world has long since known, Beamon did – and the other 16 competitors manfully resisted the temptation to take an early shower and got on with the largely thankless contest for second place.
I still have the impression firmly in my mind’s eye that halfway through his aerial flight Beamon somehow soared upwards again. Of course, he couldn’t possibly have done that. Gravity could not be denied.
We knew the jump was very, very long because Beamon, having bounded out of the pit in a series of hops, stayed transfixed as the interminable measurement was made and then suddenly began cavorting down the track as if seized by an apoplectic fit. We media observers were on the far side of the stadium and so had no visual impression, however vague, of what the distance might be.
Eventually the electronic board lit up with the figures “8.90” and we turned to each other not in uproarious frenzy or stunned amazement but in perplexity. It was obviously exceptional, but what did it mean in feet and inches? Metric-minded we Brits were yet to be.
Someone found a conversion table and at last we comprehended that
Beamon had missed out 28 feet completely and done something more than 29. Chris Brasher, himself an Olympic gold medallist 12 years earlier, turned to me and said in his customary trenchant manner: “Phillips, you’ll never see anything like that again in your lifetime.”
Well, as it happens, I had the good fortune to be in Tokyo 23 years later when Mike Powell did 8.95m. But that’s another story.
The printed programme for that memorable day in Mexico of 50 years ago, October 18, is on my desk-top as I tap the keyboard and scribbled on it is a note of what was stated afterwards by the affable Denis Watts, one of the British team’s coaches and himself a very capable long jumper in his day. “I like his distance, the rest is superfluous.” Enough said.
We’d had little time to reflect on the technical niceties, or lack of them, in Beamon’s showstopping leap. At 3.50pm, which was round about the time that Beamon was taking his second and only other attempt and returning to normality with a mere 8.04m, Lee Evans had come out and run the first-ever sub-44 400m.
Yet you may be surprised to learn that neither Beamon’s record, nor any of the others, matched in high (literally!) drama what was to happen at about 10.40am the following morning – again with not all that many people in the stadium to pay heed.
The 16th of 20 competitors in group A of the men’s high jump qualifying round took his first attempt and cleared. The height was what would seem now to be derisory, 2.03m, but there must have been hundreds of other onlookers who, like me, turned to their neighbour and exclaimed: “Did he really do that?”
It was the first time that anyone outside the United States had seen the Fosbury Flop. What a misnomer! Why on earth – from which Dick Fosbury had briefly departed at that moment – wasn’t it called the Fosbury Flight? It may be perverse of me, but Fosbury is, if anything, my most vivid memory of Mexico 1968.
Irena Szewinska: world 200mrecord of 22.58 to beat RaeleneBoyle
cover for the Mexico preview issue had John Carlos featured on it
The first Olympics on a synthetic track was unveiled at the opening ceremony and, right, first issue of the Olympics featured David Hemery on the covern
Lee Evans: set a longstanding world 400m record with43.86