Usually when one performer breaks a world record in a track or field event, other men, hitherto held back seemingly by a mental barrier, begin exceeding the former mark. Bannister's four-minute mile is the most publicized example. In 1935, when Owens set his long-jump mark, the high-jump record stood at 6'9�". In the 33 years since, more than 500 high jumpers have exceeded that height—at last count more than 50 men had gone higher than seven feet. Not so in the long jump. In the same 33 years only nine men have jumped past Owens' old 1935 mark.
Although Beamon's jump is by far the most spectacular of any age, the explosiveness of it is not unique. Here and there other jumpers before Beamon have suddenly cut loose with a big one that exceeded everyone's expectations. On the afternoon of May 25, 1963 Phil Shin-nick of the University of Washington failed to qualify for the finals of the Big Six Conference Championships in Berkeley, Calif., coming nowhere near his best jump of 25'5", made only a week before. That evening Shinnick competed in the California Relays at Modesto. After fouling one good jump, on his second try he flew out 27'4"—1'11" beyond his best and a quarter inch past the world record then held by Ter-Ovanesyan. A following wind that exceeded the permissible limit might have nullified Shinnick's record, but no one will ever know for sure. When Boston, a certified 27-footer, took his jumps in the same competition, an official was tending the wind gauge, but he had not been tending it when Shinnick, heretofore a journeyman jumper, suddenly came up with his startling leap. The record therefore could not be accepted.
Beamon's long jump in Mexico City can be best described by the English track and field authority, Frederick Webster. "I was standing close to the pit," Webster relates, "when he thus exceeded by nearly two feet any performance he had done before, and I have never in my life seen a long jumper rise so high or get such an amazing 'lift.' His body was back from the hips when he started his 'hitch kick,' and he whipped his trunk up from the waist like lightning...." The notable thing about Webster's account is that he wrote it more than 40 years ago to describe a jump that was, in some respects, even more surprising than Beamon's. At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, a Georgetown University graduate named Robert Le Gendre suddenly "put one all together," going nearly two feet past his best to set a new world record of 25'5�". It was a most unusual feat, considering that Le Gendre was not even competing in the Olympic long-jump event. The 1924 U.S. Olympic team was only slightly smaller than the aggregation of Yanks who had gone to France in 1917 on more serious business. Although six long jumpers—four competitors and two spares—were taken to Paris, Le Gendre was not one of them. He was a competent all-rounder, and he had been taken along to compete in the track and field pentathlon, then an Olympic event. It was while earning a bronze medal in the pentathlon that Le Gendre got off his one great long jump.
After weighing Beamon's jump as best it can be weighed, Dr. Wegener comments, "The most truthful thing to say about the jump is that it was an excellent performance by a superb athlete." Ralph Boston concludes, "He honestly put it out there where it will probably stay for a long long time."
Of course, somewhere, on some remote and unexpected day, someone will jump farther than Beamon. Perhaps the new record-breaker will be a lonely yak herder competing in a local meet in the thin chill air of Tibet. Perhaps he will be a UCLA exchange student from Tierra del Fuego who does the impossible by soaring through the dense supersmog of 21st-century Los Angeles. Perhaps he will be an unsung Arab named Omar Komar, who never knew he had talent until his coach put him in a wind tunnel and found that he had a coefficient of drag advantage of 10 to the minus third power. When some record-breaking hero finally does it—around the year 2020 A.D.—he will probably get only faint applause. By then the public will be much more interested in all the unearthly record-smashing that comes out of the first Moon Olympics held under ideal conditions in the dry Sea of Tranquillity.