World records are about fractions of a second, or inches. Sprinters yearn for a hundredth of a second and jumpers crave a quarter of an inch. But every now and then some one puts in a performance that doesn't just improve the record, it shatters it to smithereens. Recently, I read about just such an achievement in the long jump.
The inimitable Jesse Owen had owned the world long jump record of 26 feet 8 1/4 inches for 25 years until Ralph Boston topped it in 1960. Boston then went on to raise it another 5 times in the ensuing 8 years until the record stood at 27 feet and 4 3/4 inches. Would anyone ever beat that record? Would anyone ever cross 27.5 feet? What about 28 feet?
Then along came Bob Beamon. It was the 1968 Mexico Olympics and the 22 year old Beamon took 19 strides, hit the board perfectly and flew in the air like no human had flown before him. He crossed the world record, and then 27.5 feet, and then 28 feet, and then 28.5 feet... wait... there's more.. he passed 29 feet and landed at 29 feet 2 1/2 inches, nearly 2 feet beyond the world record!
That is an Olympic record that stands to this day 40 years later (although Mike Powell overhauled the world mark in 1991). His achievement inspired a new word in the English language: Beamonesque, meaning an athletic feat so dramatically superior to previous feats that it overwhelms the imagination.