The London Olympics were a huge success. I spent hours perched in front of the television watching the best athletes in the world compete for the ultimate honour: the title and bragging rights of being able to say “ I AM THE BEST IN THE WORLD”. Years of training, practice and sacrifice, sweating blood and tears. All this boils down to a few seconds of potential glory. Make or break! The ultimate showcase of what the human body can do.
One of my favourite events to watch is the men’s long jump. To see incredible athletes sprint a short distance and then leap as far as is possible into a sandpit. Every ounce of style, power, effort and skill is required to try out jump each competitor. Millimeters separate medal contenders. Every single jump requires each man giving his everything.
I’m fascinated by the world records. To see how improvement in diet, technology, training and other factors has seen a gradual increase over the years in what is possible.
Men’s World Record Progression (distances in meters)
7.61 Peter O’Connor (GBR) 1901
7.69 Edwin Gourdin (USA) 1923
7.76 Robert LeGendre (USA) 1924
7.89 William DeHart Hubbard (USA) 1925
7.90 Edward Hamm (USA) 1928
7.93 Sylvio Cator (HAI) 1928
7.98 Chuhei Nambu (JPN) 1931
8.13 Jesse Owens (USA) 1935
8.21 Ralph Boston (USA) 1960
8.24 Ralph Boston (USA) 1961
8.28 Ralph Boston (USA) 1961
8.31 Igor Ter-Ovanesyan (URS) 1962
8.31 Ralph Boston (USA) 1964
8.34 Ralph Boston (USA) 1964
8.35 Ralph Boston (USA) 1965
8.35 Igor Ter-Ovanesyan (URS) 1967
8.90 Bob Beamon (USA) 1968
8.95 (29′ 4.4″) Mike Powell (USA) Tokyo 1991
Yesterday I watched a herd of impala playing in the short winters grass. With little effort, these beautiful animals leapt in far excess of what the human body is capable of doing. With each jump I saw a world record shattered. And I couldn’t help but think how they were not even really trying. I was witnessing poetry in motion. Impalas are fleet footed runners who are able to leap distances of up to 12 meters. They use this technique to escape predators and sometimes, apparently, simply to amuse themselves. The impala can also clear bushes and other obstacles by soaring some 3 meters (10 feet) in the air. They can do this from an early age, with a diet of grass and leaves, with no training, no technological assistance or performance enhancing drugs. They just jump. They are brilliant.
As one looks at the nationalities of the world record holders listed above, you will see that it is certainly an American dominated event. Africa has never produced any world record jumpers. In Beijing 2008 our South African athlete Khotso Mokoena won an Olympic Silver medal with a jump of 8,24 meters!
In my opinion, Africa’s only chance for a gold at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics is if they allow one of Londolozi’s Impalas to take part, unless of course Usain Bolt follows through with his comments about competing in the long jump instead of the sprints…if that’s the case then even our finest male Impala may have to settle for silver.
Written by Adam Bannister