Beamonesque is defined as “an athletic feat so superior to what has come before, it is overwhelming.”
Between 1901 and 1968, the world long jump record was broken 13 times, with an average increase of six centimeters [2 ½ inches] and the largest increase being 15 cm [six inches]. The great Jesse Owens jumped 26’-8” in 1935, a record that stood for 25 years, until America’s Ralph Boston surpassed it in August 1960.
Over the course of the next seven years, Boston and Soviet jumper Igor Ter-Ovansesyan broke or tied the world record eight times, but the mark climbed just 5 ½ inches. On the afternoon of October 18, 1968, Bob Beamon leapt into history.
In the final of the men’s long jump at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the slender 22-year-old didn’t just set a new world record; he shattered one.
It came in the first jump of the finals and took just six seconds.
With a slight breeze at his back, Beamon took 29 strides on his approach, reaching terrific speed. “I eased up on my last step before I hit the board, and that makes the difference when I jump well,” Beamon said. While ascending to six feet in the air, the 6’3”, 150-pound string bean pumped his arms skyward to propel himself forward. Beamon came to earth, his backside momentarily hitting the sand while his momentum carried him forward out of the pit.
The optical measuring device introduced for the Mexico City Games was not designed to calculate a jump of such length, forcing officials to use a metal tape measure to gauge the jump manually. After a 20 minute wait, 8.90m [29’-2 1/2”] flashed on the electronic scoreboard. Upon realizing what he had done, Beamon collapsed, overcome with emotion.
Not only had Beamon become the first 29-foot long jumper, he was the first to pass 28, too. It had taken 33 years for the long jump world record to progress 22 centimeters, but in one leap, Beamon added another 55 cm.
English jumper Lynn Davies, the defending Olympic champion, told Beamon “You have destroyed this event.” Ter-Ovansesyan, who had set the world record in the same stadium one year earlier, said, “Compared to this jump, we are as children.”
In one of the most extraordinary sporting feats in Olympic history, Beamon had demolished the long jump mark by almost two feet, performing The Leap of the Century.
Born in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York, August 29, 1946, Robert Beamon lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was an infant. Seeking attention, he became a troublemaker and class clown in school, then turned to sports.
An excellent basketball player, Beamon was even better in track. In 1965, he set a national high school record in the triple jump and was second in the nation in the long jump. He earned a scholarship to North Carolina A & T, then transferred to UTEP, a growing track power.
After winning the AAU indoor title and earning a silver medal at the Pan Am Games in 1967, Beamon arrived in Mexico City as a medal favorite, then nearly missed the finals.
He fouled on his first two attempts in the prelims, overstepping the mark. With one attempt left, Boston advised Beamon to take off well before the board. The youngster listened to the two-time Olympic medalist, qualifying second to Boston.
Following the Games, detractors criticized Beamon’s record, citing the following wind [2.0 meters per second; the maximum allowable velocity for a record] and thin air of Mexico City [elevation: 7,350 feet] as contributing factors.
Yet two world-record holders and the defending Olympic champion were in the field, and all athletes competed in the same conditions. Only Beamon jumped farther than 27 feet.
Perhaps no Olympic record is as impressive as Beamon’s incomparable jump in Mexico City. Voted one of the five greatest sporting moments of the 20th century, Beamonesque has become part of the sports lexicon.
Although the record was broken by Mike Powell in August 1991, Beamon’s mark still stands as the Olympic record five decades later, making it the longest-standing Olympic record.
After leaping into immortality by setting the greatest record in track & field history, Bob Beamon barely jumped after the 1968 Olympics. He never again reached 27 feet and faded from the sport. Beamon lost his UTEP scholarship for participating in a boycott of a meet against BYU, a Mormon school whose racial policies disturbed him. Following his dismissal from UTEP, Mr. Beamon graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in sociology in 1972.
Robert Beamon was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 15th round of the 1969 NBA Draft but never played an NBA game. A charter member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, Beamon was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1977.