RE­MEM­BER­ING MEX­ICO 1968

Athletics Weekly - - News - PIC­TURES: MARK SHEAR­MAN

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

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