Why are some sports performances more mythical than others? The first episode of the second season of ‘World Record’, the excellent series of sports journalist Maarten Vangramberen, got me thinking. It was hung on Mike Powell, the man who jumped 8.95 meters 29 years ago. With that he did 5 centimeters better than his compatriot Bob Beamon had done at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
Still, in my memory, Beamon’s performance remains more legendary. He really did something alien. Suddenly a man jumped nearly 9 meters, more than half a meter further than anyone had ever jumped. He was forgiven for the fact that he could count on the benefit of the high altitude for that achievement. The fact that it all happened in black and white certainly contributed to the myth.
Powell jumped “only” 5 centimeters further than Beamon. Perhaps that is why his record appeals less to the imagination. In addition, Powell jumped his entire career in the shadow of Carl Lewis, perhaps the best athlete of the 20th century.
Vangramberen turned out to have made a very good choice with Powell. Just as in the first series, he uses the performance in the first place to explain the scientific reality behind it. Vangrambeer does this with a lot of love for the sport and for science.
But the great thing about this episode was the man Powell. He had come all the way to Brussels to speak again about his unique leap. He enjoyed it a lot. Powell turned out to be a very amiable man, with a great sense of humor – “the longer I have the record, the farther my jump seems to be” – and with a lot of psychological insight and self-knowledge. The way he told about “King” Carl, once his idol, whom he had to make his enemy to be able to defeat him, was very enlightening.
Once again it became clear that Lewis was not only an exceptional athlete but also a gland. He went on to intimidate Powell on that particular World Cup evening in Tokyo as he approached. But it only drew more determination out of it. The two drove each other to exceptional performance. The final became an absolute thriller, much more than the Olympic final of 1968. First Lewis improved Beamon’s record, but eventually Powell did 4 centimeters better.
In the light of athletics history, however, he knows his place: behind Carl Lewis. “He remains the absolute number 1.”
Nice man, that Mike.
World record. Monday at 9:20 pm on Canvas