On October 18, 1968, during the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, American long jumper Bob Beamon delivered one of the great performances in the history of the modern Olympiad. Beamon hung in the rarefied air at the Estadio Olímpico and soared out to an astonishing distance of 8.90 metres, thereby beating the previous world record by 55 centimetres. Of course, Beamon benefited from the ‘double whammy’ of high altitude – Mexico City stands 7,350 feet above sea level – and a brisk, but legal, tailwind, but his record nonetheless stood for 23 years.
The stars aligned again on August 30, 1991, at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, during the World Athletics Championships. Taking advantage not of high altitude, but rather an extraordinarily hard long jump runway surface – of a type which, thereafter, would no longer be sanctioned by World Athletics – fellow American Mike Powell leapt 8.95 metres, thereby beating Beamon’s record by 5 centimetres. It was probably no coincidence that compatriot Carl Lewis jumped 8.87 metres – the third-longest legal jump of all time – during the same competition.
In 2016, Ed Warner, chairman of UK Athletics, proposed introducing a new set of world records, based on performaces in the so-called ‘Clean Athletics’ era. Powell reacted angrily, saying ‘I’ve got something that was set 25 years ago and I have got some guy sitting in an office who can take it away from me? Are you kidding me? I’d slap him in his face if he said that to me.’