On This Day: Mike Powell smashes long jump record in one of the greatest finals ever

·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
Mike Powell of the United State making his world record leap during the Long Jump event at the IAAF World Athletic Championships on 30th August 1991 at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. Powell broke Bob Beamon's 23-year-old long jump world record by 5 cm (2 inches), leaping 8.95 m (29 ft 4 in). (Photo by Bob Martin/Getty Images)
Mike Powell makes his world record leap during the men's long jump at the Tokyo World Championships on 30 August, 1991. (Bob Martin/Getty Images)

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.

Mike Powell of the United State celebrates on the podium  with silver medallist Carl Lewis (R) and bronze medallist Larry Myricks (L) after making his world record leap during the Long Jump event at the IAAF World Athletic Championships on 30th August 1991 at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. Powell broke Bob Beamon's 23-year-old long jump world record by 5 cm (2 inches), leaping 8.95 m (29 ft 4 in). (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
Mike Powell celebrates on the podium with silver medallist Carl Lewis, right, and bronze medallist Larry Myricks, left. (Getty Images)

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.

Mike Powell of the United State during the Long Jump event at the IAAF World Athletic Championships on 30th August 1991 at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. Powell broke Bob Beamon's 23-year-old long jump world record by 5 cm (2 inches), leaping 8.95 m (29 ft 4 in). (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
Mike Powell during the long jump event in which he set a world record which stands to this day. (Getty Images)

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.

1991:  Mike Powell of the United States kneels in triumph after competing in the 8.95 meter long jump during the World Championship Games in Tokyo, Japan. Powell set the world record winning this event. Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell  /Allsport
Mike Powell enjoying the moment after winning gold, and setting the men's long jump world record, at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. (Getty Images)

“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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