The long jump in Mexico featured an outstanding field. All three medallists from the 1964 Games had returned, along with strong challengers from East Germany, Australia and the Soviet Union. The narrow favourite, though, was another newcomer – the American Bob Beamon, from New York.
Beamon arrived in Mexico on the back of a strong run of form. He had won 22 of his preceding 23 competitions and was the national champion at both long jump and triple-jump.
He had a problem, though. He was more prone to foul jumps than his rivals, a weakness that nearly stopped him long before history was due to be made. In the qualifying round, he fouled in his first two attempts. One more failure and he would be out. In an echo of that great moment in 1936, when Luz Long offered wise counsel to Jesse Owens, another jumper, Ralph Boston, approached Beamon and made exactly the same suggestion Long had made all those years earlier – jump early!
Beamon did what he was told and qualified easily.
The rest is the stuff of legend, one of the greatest Olympic moments. In the rarefied Mexican atmosphere, and with the wind gauge just this side of legal, Beamon made sporting history. Boston encouraged him once again, but this time Beamon needed no help.
His first leap was more than good enough to win gold and to propel him to enduring global fame. Beamon hit the board perfectly, and sailed through the air at a height estimated at six feet, landing so powerfully that he bounced out of the pit. The measuring equipment was not able to gauge such a long leap, so an old-fashioned steel tape was called for.
Some wondered whether he had become the first man to clear 28 feet. He had, but he had also become the first man to clear 29 feet. He had jumped 8.90 metres, obliterating the World Record.
Upon realising what he'd done, Beamon was overcome. He sank to the ground in a state of shock.
The contest was, effectively, over, especially as it soon began to rain. His nearest challenger turned out to be the East German Klaus Beer, who finished a yawning 71cm behind.
Beamon was never again to jump anywhere near that distance, but his place in legend was established. His record was to stand for more than 20 years.