Powell: Today's long-jumpers have it easy

"The long jump is the hardest event to do on the track. You have to have a sprinter's speed and then go up in the air and land safely. It's difficult to get that transition from horizontal speed to vertical lift."

Long Jumper Mike Powell poses during the TCS Press Conference in Bengaluru.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Mike Powell, the owner of the 25-year-old world record in long jump (8.95m), is best-known for his duel with the legendary Carl Lewis at the 1991 World Championship in Tokyo. Lewis had three of the best jumps of his career and one wind-aided attempt beyond Bob Beamon’s mark of 8.90m, but still finished second to Powell.

On Thursday, the Brand Ambassador of TCS World 10k, was at his sprightly best, and even cried “I am also an elite athlete!” when he heard the moderator ushering in the ‘Elite athletes’ on to the stage. For someone who heard him speak, it was tough to think otherwise. He calls himself, the Beethoven of Long Jump, and at 52, is set to compete in the US Olympic trials for Rio.


Jumps 50 cm lower than yours are good enough to win Olympic medals.

In the Olympics in 2012, 8.12m was the bronze. If Jesse Owens’ world record of 8.13 (in 1935) can win a medal in 2012, that’s unheard of in sport. Every other event has progressed. But long jump is in such a pathetic state that you can count on me!

Greg Rutherford won the gold in 2012 and he jumped so short. That’s what bothers me, these guys have it easy! I had to break a 20-year-old world record and beat a guy who hadn’t lost for 10 years and just broke the 100m record. And when I broke the record, I didn’t know I was going to win! That’s how good he (Carl Lewis) was.

That night in Tokyo

Carl [Lewis] had just broken the world record in 100m. And the key to jumping long is running fast. So I knew I had to break the record to beat him. On top of that I hated Carl. He was my idol at first but after I started competing, I had to demonize him. Whatever he did, he was my enemy.

That night, I was on a mission. The World Championship was a statement about my life. To everybody who called me skinny, to those who turned me down for a date, it was my moment of saying ‘uhhh’ and ‘yeahh’. That was for Carl too. When he jumped 8.91m, he ran past me going ‘yeah’. And when I jumped the world record and he was looking at me trying to get pumped up, I thought: ‘Please Mr. Lewis, let me have the record. You already won everything else. Let me have my night please.’

Your record surviving 25 years

I did not think it would last 20 minutes, let alone 25 years. I thought Carl Lewis was going to come and jump right after.

Why your record is still intact

It's a hard record to break. From 1900, Peter O' Connor had the record for 21 years. Jesse Owens had it for 25 years, Bob Beamon for 23, and me for 25. The long jump is the hardest event to do on the track. You have to have a sprinter's speed and then go up in the air and land safely. It's difficult to get that transition from horizontal speed to vertical lift. That, rather than speed, is the trick. The young guys are not able to do it.

Losing out twice in the Olympics

It still hurts. He (Carl Lewis) beat me with his mind. And I allowed him to do that. He can’t do it now, back then he did. He’s a master.

Till I retired, I was so hard on myself because I didn’t get a gold in the Olympics.

Would you swap the record for an Olympic gold?

I’ll take the world record. Carl asks me this all the time. I say: 'Man you got nine gold medals, so give me a break. You want everything? If you give me four of those medals and I get to choose the ones that I want, then I’ll swap.

Your take on the recent doping scandal?

I think that athletics is not treated fairly. Because we bust our stars. Other sports don’t do that. And we get blamed for it.

Should Russia be let back?

No. They have been doing that for a long time. I feel sorry for the athletes but it’s the system. In Russia, they conduct business in a different way. Whenever there’s World Championships in that country, I bet you have five to six Russians among the medalists and half of them are dirty. It’s unfortunate but they can’t be allowed to compete.

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