Classics finals: The measuring device wasn't long enough for Bob Beamon

American athlete Bob Beamon breaks the long jump record at the Mexico 1968 Olympic Games (18 October 1968) (Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)
American athlete Bob Beamon breaks the long jump record at the Mexico 1968 Olympic Games (18 October 1968) (Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

The history of the Olympic Games is full of dramatic, emotional and beautiful moments that took place in finals. Every week, relive the most incredible finals you can remember on video. This week, we look at the greatest long jump final in Olympic history.

The deets

  • Long jump, Mexico 1968 Olympic Games
  • Olympic Stadium, Mexico - 18 October 1968

The background

A 22-year-old Bob Beamon, who began long jumping at school in New York City, was one of the favourites to win the 1968 Olympic long jump competition. However, two world record holders were also competing: The Russian Igor Ter-Ovanessian (8.35m), who was aiming to claim his first gold medal after two previous attempts, and the 1960 Olympic champion Ralph Boston (8.35m). Over the preceding five years, those two athletes had broken eight world records, as you can see in the video below.

With a personal best of 8.33m, Bob Beamon knew that he would have to produce the jump of his life to stand on top of the podium.

The competition was poised to be epic.

Key moment

The night before the competition was stressful for Beamon. He was nervous, so he went out for some drinks. Not the best preparation for an Olympic final.

Moreover, the athlete in bib #254 was the first jumper to attempt a jump. Compared to the night before, he was relaxed, as he stood, ran and jumped. As you can also see in the video, his very first attempt was majestic.

There was only one problem. The officials were unable to measure the jump as their instrument was not long enough to reach the mark in the sand.

After 20 minutes of old-school measuring, the distance was confirmed to be 8.90m, beating the previous record by a mind-blowing 55cm.

After one more attempt where he jumped 8.04m, Beamon decided not to jump anymore. The gold medal had been secured.

Boston went on to take bronze with a disappointing 8.16m jump, while Ter-Ovanessian finished 4th with a mark of 8.12m.

Beamon had demolished the competition.

The outcome

The jump made such an impact that a new expression was born: Beamonesque. "It means an athletic feat so superior to what has come before, it is overwhelming," according to the athlete's IOC profile page.

His world record stood for 23 years without anyone touching it. We had to wait until perhaps the greatest long jump event ever, during the Tokyo 1991 Athletics World Championships, where the U.S. athletes Carl Lewis and Mike Powell fought for gold. The legend Carl Lewis jumped 8.87m for silver while Mike Powell flew through the air to record a jump of 8.95m. This mark still stands as the best in history.

After ending his athletics career, Bob Beamon was drafted by the Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team. He then graduated with a degree in sociology from Adelphi University in 1972, and was later inducted in the US Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Beamon Soars To Long Jump Record in Mexico 1968
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