The triple jump, formerly called the “hop, skip and jump” or “hop, step and jump,” is an event with long roots, apparently dating to the ancient Greek Olympics. In modern times the men's world record has literally hopped and skipped around the world, landing in North and South American, Europe, Asia and Australia. Dan Ahearn, an Irish-born American, set some unofficial triple jump world records in the first decade of the 20th century, then established the first internationally-recognized triple jump mark by leaping 15.52 meters (50 feet, 11 inches) in May of 1911. His effort became the official world standard when it was recognized by the IAAF in 1912.
Ahearn's mark stood alone until the 1924 Olympic final, when Australia's Nick Winter also jumped 15.52. The pair reigned together until 1931, when Japan's Mikio Oda – the 1928 Olympic triple jump gold medalist – leaped 15.58/51-1¼. Japan won the Olympic triple jump gold again at the 1932 Olympics, as Chuhei Nambu prevailed with a world-record jump of 15.72/51-6¾. He became the first and so far the only man to hold both the triple jump and long jump world records simultaneously. Nambu lost both of his world marks in 1935. Jesse Owens broke the long jump record and Australia's Jack Metcalfe took the triple jump mark, with an effort measuring 15.78/51-6¾. But Japan retained its Olympic triple jump dominance – and regained the world record – in 1936, as Naoto Tajima hit the 16-meter mark (52-5¾) on the dot during the final in Berlin.
Brazil's Adhemar da Silva began his attack on the triple jump record book in 1950, leaping 16 meters in a Sao Paulo meet. He improved the mark to 16.01/52-6¼ in 1951 and then beat it twice during a meet in Helsinki in 1952, topping out at 16.22/53-2½. Leonid Shcherbakov became the first of several Russians to own the triple jump record when he leaped 16.23/53-2¾ in 1953. Three years later, da Silva – the 1952 and 1956 Olympic triple jump champion – set his fifth world record with a jump measuring 16.56/54-3¾, at altitude in Mexico City. The triple jump record fell once each year from 1958 through 1960, with Oleg Ryakhovskiy of the Soviet Union leaping 16.59/54-5 in 1958, fellow Soviet Oleg Fyodoseyev reaching 16.70/54-9½ in 1959 and Poland's Jozef Szmidt topping the 17-meter mark with a jump measuring 17.03/55-10½ in 1960.
Olympic Record Rampage
Bob Beamon's long jump world record snatched most of the publicity during the 1968 Olympic jumping competition, but the triple jump battle was just as memorable. First, Italy's Giuseppe Gentile set a new standard during qualifications by leaping 17.10/56-1¼. The following day, Gentile improved his mark to 17.22/56-5¾ in the first round. But the competition was just heating up. Georgian-born Victor Sanyeyev of the Soviet Union took the lead – and set a new world mark – with a third-round jump measuring 17.23/56-6¼, only to lose both when Brazil's Nelson Prudencio leaped 17.27/56-7¾ in round five. Sanyeyev then had the last word in round six, earning the gold and leaving Mexico City with the world triple jump record of 17.39/57-½. Prudencio took the silver and Gentile, who just minutes earlier was the world record-holder, now had to settle for a bronze medal.
Things settled down after the burst of excitement in 1968. Sanyeyev – who went on to win two more Olympic triple jump gold medals – lost his world mark when Cuba's 19-year-old Pedro Perez leaped 17.40/57-1 in the 1971 Pan-American Games final. Sanyeyev answered in 1972, four years to the day after winning in Mexico City, by reaching 17.44/57-2½. Sanyeyev jumped into a wind measuring 0.5 mps, becoming the only male triple jump world record-holder to date to run into a headwind. The Mexican capital again played host to a world record performance in 1975, when Brazil's Joao Carlos de Oliveira extended the record to 17.89/58-8¼. The standard stood for almost 10 full years, until American Willie Banks leaped 17.97/58-11½ during the U.S. Outdoor Championships in 1985.
The Age of Edwards
At the 1995 European Cup, Great Britain's Jonathan Edwards soared past the world record distance, reaching 18.43/60-5½. With a wind at his back exceeding 2 mps, the effort wasn't eligible to set a new mark. But it did foreshadow coming events. In July of that year, Edwards gained the world standard for real by edging Banks with a jump measuring 17.98/58-11¾. At the World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden in August, he burst through the 18-meter barrier by leaping 18.16/59-7 in the first round, then topped himself on his next attempt with a gold medal-winning jump of 18.29/60-¼ that has stood the test of time.
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