O’Connor’s mark stood for almost 20 years before the initial squad of American record-holders took charge. Edward Gourdin was the first to pass the 25-foot mark, leaping 7.69/25-2¾ while jumping for Harvard in 1921. Robert LeGendre broke Gourdin’s mark during the 1924 Paris Olympics, but not in the long jump competition. Instead, LeGendre achieved his record-breaking jump of 7.76/25-5½ during the pentathlon competition. Gourdin reportedly leaped more than 7.8 meters (25-8) the day after the 1924 Olympic long jump final, but he did so in an exhibition that wasn’t sanctioned by the IAAF, so he didn’t regain world record status.
DeHart Hubbard leaped 7.89/25-10¾ while competing for the University of Michigan in 1925 and owned the world mark for three years, until Edward Hamm reached 7.90/25-11 at the 1928 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Sylvio Cator of Haiti took the record away from the United States with a leap measuring 7.93/26-0 later in 1928. Chuhei Nambu brought the record to Japan with a 7.98/26-2 effort in 1931. Nambu set the world triple jump mark in 1932, becoming the first man to own both horizontal jumping records simultaneously.
Jesse Owens Rewrites the Record Book
Nambu’s long jump performance stood up as the Asian record until 1970, but his world mark was broken during a memorable performance by Jesse Owens in 1935. Competing in the Big Ten championships for Ohio State, Owens broke three world records and tied another in a 45-minute span, despite suffering from a sore back. He tied the world 100-meter record, and set world marks in the 220-yard run and 220-yard hurdles. After winning the 100 he took just one attempt in the long jump, leaping a world record 8.13/26-8, becoming the first man to break the 8-meter barrier.
Owens owned the world mark for 25 years before fellow American Ralph Boston began his assault on the record book. Boston tuned up for the 1960 Olympics by jumping 8.21/26-11¼, then leaped past the 27-foot mark twice in 1961, peaking at 8.28/27-2. Igor Ter-Ovanesyan of the Soviet Union broke Boston’s mark in 1962. The Ukrainian-born jumper leaped into a 0.1 mps headwind but still reached 8.31/27-3¼. Boston tied Ter-Ovanesyan’s mark in August of 1964, then topped it by leaping 8.34/27-4¼ in September. Boston extended his record to 8.35/27-4¾ in 1965, then Ter-Ovanesyan tied the mark while jumping at altitude in Mexico City in 1967.
The “Miracle Jump”
Mexico City was then the site of the most shocking leap in long jump history. Both Boston and Ter-Ovanesyan competed in the 1968 Olympics – the American would earn a bronze medal – but Boston was also mentoring the year’s world-leading jumper, American Bob Beamon. After Beamon fouled twice during the qualifications, Boston advised him to move back and start his approach with his opposite foot. Beamon followed the advice and qualified easily. In the final, Beamon shocked everyone – himself included – by soaring more than 21 inches beyond the world record on his first attempt. Disbelieving officials brought out a steel tape measure and double-checked the landing pit before certifying Beamon’s distance: 8.90/29-2½. “I didn’t go in to break any records,” Beamon said later. “I was only interested in winning a gold medal.”
Powell Tops the Charts
Beamon’s mark stood for almost 23 years, until Mike Powell won a long jump showdown against Carl Lewis at the 1991 World Championships. Unlike Beamon, Powell was aiming at the world record, because he felt that to beat Lewis he’d have to break Beamon’s mark. Powell was correct as Lewis leaped a wind-aided 8.91/29-2¾ to take the lead in the Championship final. The wind died down to a legal 0.3 mps while Powell took his fifth jump, which measured 8.95/29-4¼, good enough to beat both Lewis and Beamon.
Ivan Pedroso of Cuba jumped 8.96 at altitude in 1995, with the wind gauge reading a legal 1.2 mps, but the gauge was obstructed by an Italian coach during each of Pedroso’s – contrary to IAAF rules – so his performance wasn’t even submitted for verification. Powell himself reached 8.99 at altitude in 1992, but the 4.4 mps wind behind him was more than twice the legal limit. As of 2013, Powell’s mark of 8.95/29-4¼ remains on the books.