It was one of the greatest track and field competitions ever staged.
On this day, August 30 1991, Mike Powell set the world record – which still stands to this day – in an astonishing men’s long jump duel with Carl Lewis, himself one of the greatest track and field athletes ever.
At the World Championships in Tokyo on 30 August, 1991, the American jumped 8.95m, smashing the previous 8.90m record set by Bob Beamon in 1968.
Powell’s jump remains one of the longest-standing world records in athletics.
But not only did he beat the world record, he also broke the dominance of Lewis, who had been unbeaten in 10 years.
Powell had been long jumping at Lewis’s level for eight of those years, but by his own admission had started out 50cm behind.
Going into the championships, though, “I knew I was closing the gap.”
In an interview with the World Athletics YouTube channel in May, he recalled: “I felt like at the World Championships, that was going to be my opportunity to finally beat him.
“I knew he was ready to break a world record so in my mind, I knew in order for me to win, I was going to have to be prepared to try and break the world record.”
By Powell’s own admission, Lewis – who had also ran a world record 9.86 seconds in the men's 100m five days earlier – was a more consistent jumper. But he said his attitude was: “I’ve got six attempts to get one good one.”
As if to prove that point, Powell’s first jump was a “horrible” 7.85m.
It was Lewis’s fourth jump which kicked Powell into gear. Even though the wind-assisted 8.91m couldn’t stand, Powell felt Lewis getting the upper hand.
He recalled: “He jogged past me pumping his fists going: ‘Yeah! That’s right!’ And at that moment I was so angry. I wanted to get up and punch him, fight him, because he was my enemy at the time. I just took it personally.
“Once he did that, I said: ‘OK… I’m ready to go.’”
It was Powell’s fifth jump when he recorded the world record 8.95m.
“I was so fired up by his response to his jump, him letting me know that’s it. I was angry, my adrenaline was so, so high.
“I thought to myself: ‘Go.’ I had a great jump, a lot of air time, and the crowd let me know how far it was. I could hear people saying ‘world record’.
“I just knew that I jumped past him.
"I will never forget that, I was so, so happy. Running down the track like: ‘I finally got the record!’”
His joy was short-lived when a friend reminded him Lewis still had two jumps left to try and beat Powell. “I had to calm down and wait and watch.”
In his fifth, Lewis achieved a personal best of 8.87m. As he took his sixth and final jump, an anxious-looking Powell was pictured holding his chest. Lewis, though, could only manage 8.84m.
“I beat him,” Powell said. “I finally beat him. I was just so happy.”
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