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I am not afraid to tell you Americans that I have learned a lot from you and I wasn't ashamed to learn. Thousands of times I studied the movies of Jesse Owens' jumps. I tried to acquire the harmony of running form and speed which were peculiar to him and very much his own. From Bell I tried to learn the art of keeping balanced while in flight. From Bennett I wanted to learn his softness, from Shelby his impeccable landing. Boston forced me to see the takeoff in a new light. I commit no error when I say that I know the mistakes and the strong points of these broad jumpers better than they know them themselves.
But there cannot be two people who are alike in this world, and in the same way there cannot be two similar forms of movement. For instance, in school all children learn to write, but each one of them works out his own unmistakable handwriting. Thus I was also working out my own "handwriting." I wasn't alone in my experiments; otherwise it would have taken me much more time. A group of rather strong jumpers appeared in our country. There was a scientifically worked-out method of sports planning and there was medical control—all these things were opening new possibilities for progress. In 1959 I jumped 26 feet 3¼ inches.
The year 1960 was beginning. In order to better prepare for the Olympics, I decided to spend my winter vacation in the mountains. And there something happened I had not planned on at all.
It would be too long a story to tell in detail. But jumping from a natural, not a man-made, runway, I fell on my back, suffered a brain concussion and tore to pieces a muscle in my hip. This happened in January, and I had to spend a month in bed.
That was certainly a bad start to get ready for the Rome Olympics!
When I began to walk, the doctors found an atrophy of the big hip muscle. The question came up: should I go on with sports? But from my early childhood I understood the magic action of physical exercise. And it became my principal drug.
I started to take that drug three times a day by doing a tremendous amount of various exercises in order to bring back the use of the injured muscle. I never thought before that I could be such a fanatic, actually possessed by a demoniac spirit of exercise.
I even started to walk in a special way, somehow side-wise, trying to strengthen the injured muscle. When sitting, I always tried to contract that muscle. To a stranger, this looked funny and quite often my behavior was a matter for jokes. But for me it was not a joke. Not long before the 1960 Olympics I showed good results, and I was taken on the Soviet Olympic team.
In Rome, in 1960, I met Ralph Boston for the first time. He was already a world champion. We were introduced to each other on the night before the Olympic events began. I liked him.
Boston became the Olympic champion and I finished third. For the first time in the history of track and field, four men, in the same competition, jumped over 26 feet 3 inches. Such a thing had never happened before.