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08 May 2015
IOC News

Three giant leaps into the history books

Celebrating its centenary on the Olympic programme at Atlanta 1996, the men’s triple jump competition served up a record-breaking and thrilling encounter between two of the discipline’s all-time greats.


Atlanta 1996 arguably produced the high point in the history of the triple jump on the Olympic stage. Not only did it mark the 100th anniversary of the discipline’s appearance at the Olympics, and not only did it see women compete in the event for the first time, but it also witnessed possibly the most enthralling ever contest in the men’s competition.

The two leading protagonists, Johnathan Edwards (GBR) and Kenny Harrison (USA) locked horns in an epic duel for gold. In the course of their head-to-head, the previous Olympic record was bettered not once, not twice, but three times, and resulted in what are to this day the longest three jumps ever seen on the Olympic stage.

Edwards had set a new world record of 18.29m a year earlier at the World Championships in Gothenburg (SWE) – a benchmark that remains intact today. However, in Atlanta he had to settle for silver as he was out-jumped by local hero Harrison. The Welshman’s turn to top the podium would come four years later, when he saw off Cuba’s Yoel Garcia to win the gold at Sydney 2000.

In the final at Atlanta he produced a fourth round jump of 17.88m, which would have been enough to claim the Olympic record… had it not already been twice broken by Harrison who had posted distances of 17.99m and 18.09m with his first and third efforts – with the latter distance remaining the Olympic benchmark to this day.

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To put that into context, 100 years earlier in Athens his compatriot James Connolly had won the inaugural Olympic triple jump competition (and the first ever gold medal awarded in the modern Olympic era) with a jump of 13.71m. By 1908, Great Britain’s Tim Ahearn had raised the Olympic benchmark to 14.92m (by which point his younger brother Dan had set a new world record of 15.52m). It wasn’t until 1936 that the 16 metre mark was breached as Japan’s  Naoto Tajima set a new world and Olympic record of 16.00m exactly.

Tajima’s record stood for 16 years until Brazil’s Adhemar da Silva leapt 16.22 to clinch gold and a new world and Olympic benchmark at Helsinki 1952, before increasing the Olympic record to 16.35 four years later in Melbourne. At Rome 1960 the Olympic record was broken for the third Games in a row as Poland’s Jozef Szmidt produced a winning jump of 16.81m. A month earlier the Pole had taken the world record beyond 17 metres for the first time, notching 17.03m. At Tokyo 1964, Szmidt added another four centimetres to his Olympic best, recording 16.85. Then at Mexico City 1968, first Giuseppe Gentile of Italy, and then eventual gold medallist Viktor Saneyev of the USSR smashed the Olympic and world record, with the latter leaving the new benchmark at 17.39m as he claimed the first of three consecutive Olympic titles.

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Saneyev’s Olympic record stood for 20 years, but then at Seoul 1988 it was bettered by all three of the men who occupied the podium. His compatriots Aleksandr Kovalenko and Igor Lapshin took bronze and silver with jumps of 17.42m and 17.52m respectively, but Bulgaria’s Khristo Markov was stronger still and posted a gold-medal winning distance of 17.61m to set a new Games benchmark.

It seemed as if 18 metres was now within reach, especially as the USA’s Willie Banks had set a new world record at 17.97. In fact at Barcelona 1992, Banks’ fellow American Mike Conley posted a massive 18.17m with his final jump, but it was heavily wind assisted and therefore not included in the record books. Conley still left Barcelona as the new Olympic record holder, having earlier jumped 17.63m with his second effort. However, four years later his place on the leaderboard was taken by first Edwards and then Harrison.

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