We take a look at the history of the men’s long jump at the Olympic Games

1896-2012

Ellery Clark was the inaugural winner in Athens in 1896. He struggled at first with two no jumps as Prince George of Greece, who was superintending the event, disallowed any marks to be made to aid run-up strides as it was deemed to be too professional!

This third and final jump of 6.35m gave him the title, though.

In Paris in 1900, qualifying marks were allowed to count and world record-holder Meyer Prinstein won silver with a 7.17m jump though he didn’t compete in the final as it was a Sunday and was prohibited from jumping by his university team even though he himself was Jewish. US team-mate Alvin Kraenzlein pipped him for gold by just one centimetre.

In 1904 Prinstein had no such problems competing in the final and won in St Louis with an Olympic record 7.34m, taking gold by 45 centimetres.

Prinstein defended his title in Athens and USA also dominated in London in 1908 as they had five of the top six places headed by Frank Irons’ 7.48m.

USA had only five of the top seven in Stockholm as they made it six wins in six Games with Albert Gutterson upping the Olympic record to 7.60m and just missing the world record by a centimetre.

Distances were down in Antwerp in 1920 and it featured the first US loss as William Pettersson won with a modest 7.15m.

America were back on top in Paris in 1924 as William Hubbard won with 7.44m, though pentathlete Robert LeGendre notably jumped a world record of 7.77m in the five-event contest.

Edward Hamm advanced the world record to 7.90m and then improved the Olympic record to 7.73m in winning gold in Amsterdam in 1928. Edward Gordon, who had been seventh in 1928, won gold in Los Angeles in 1932.

In 1935, Jesse Owens set a world record of 8.13m – a mark that would last for 25 years.

In Berlin the following year, home crowd favourite Luz Long matched him for two rounds as both jumped Olympic records of 7.87m but Owens responded to the competition to take gold with 8.06m, much to the disgust of a watching Adolf Hitler and his Aryan supremacy theory.

Post-World War II from London 1948 to Melbourne 1956, the USA took gold and won two medals but none of the winners could come anywhere close to Owens’s 1936 mark.

That changed in 1960 as Ralph Boston finally broke Owens’s record with an 8.21m leap two weeks before the Rome Games.

Boston won gold in Italy with an Olympic record 8.12m but only won by a single centimetre from team-mate Irvin Roberson as four jumpers bettered 8 metres and 26 feet for the first time.

USA lost out for the first time in 44 years in 1964 (see British successes) but won again in 1968 (see most memorable Olympics).

Teenager Randy Williams won in Munich 1972 with a first round 8.24m and bronze medallist Arnie Robinson did better four years later as his 8.35m gave him victory over Williams.

The boycott meant there were no USA jumpers in Moscow in 1980 but there was still an exceptional performance as East German Lutz Dombrowski won with the first actual 28 foot jump as his 8.54m went second all-time.

In 1984, East Germany was absent but Carl Lewis matched Dombrowski’s mark. Curiously Lewis got booed by the American crowd for passing the last four rounds to save himself for his other events as he also won 100m, 200m and relay golds in Los Angeles.

In 1988, Lewis had narrowly won the US trials with an 8.76m leap by two centimetres from Larry Myricks and then in Korea he won with an 8.72m jumping less than an hour after a 200m heat.

Mike Powell finished second in Seoul then shocked Lewis in the greatest contest in history in the 1991 World Championships as he broke Beamon’s world record with 8.95m to end his rival’s 10-year sequence of victories over 65 competitions.

The pair were close again in Barcelona in 1992 as Lewis opened with an 8.67m which proved sufficient although Powell almost snatched gold with an 8.64m

Lewis was not in the same shape for Atlanta 1996 and was only third in the US trials, a centimetre ahead of fourth but he showed his great competitive mettle to have his best jump for four years and win with a 8.50m leap and make history with his fourth successive gold and match discus thrower Al Oerter.

Ivan Pedroso would have been favourite in 1996 but wasn’t at his best after injury and finished 12th. The 1995, 1997 and 1999 world champion snatched gold in Sydney in 2000 with his final jump of 8.55m.

For the first time ever – barring the 1980 boycott – the US failed to medal. They were back on top for Athens in 2004 as world champion Dwight Phillips won a quality competition with the first eight bettering 8.20m – the previous Olympic best was four.

The USA was also out of the medals in 2008 as Irving Saladino became Panama’s first ever Olympic athletics champion.

British successes

Ireland’s Patrick Leahy, competing for Britain, took bronze in the 1900 Games in Paris. The top Irish jumper Peter O’Connor was entered, didn’t compete, but broke the world record shortly after the Games. O’Connor remained Irish record-holder for 90 years.

O’Connor did take part in the 1906 Games in Athens and was upset to find he had to compete for Britain rather than Ireland and complained to the IOC. He won silver with a 7.02m jump though protested the American judge had wrongly declared a foul for what would have been a winning leap.

Having complained before and during, he also made protestations after as he climbed the flagpole and tore down the British flag at the medal ceremony and replaced it with an Irish flag!

While the first British medals were really Ireland’s, they finally won a more genuine medal in Tokyo in 1964, though this time it was a Welsh athlete.

Defending champion and world record-holder Ralph Boston was favourite but America failed to win their 15th gold in 16 Games as Lynn Davies adapted better to the cold and windy conditions. He jumped a lifetime best of 8.07m to move up from third to first and then had to watch as Boston came close with 8.03m in his final jump and Soviet Igor Ter-Ovanesyan also came close. He became the first ever Welshman to win Olympic gold.

Chris Tomlinson was fifth in 2008 and Greg Rutherford was third best in qualifying in Beijing in 2008 with 8.16m but could only jump 7.84m for tenth in the final.

He showed better form in London in 2012 to win the first English long jump medal and in front of a delighted crowd on Super Saturday he won gold alongside Mo Farah and Jess Ennis.

He took the lead with an 8.21m second round and then improved to 8.31m in the fourth to win easily. Tomlinson finished sixth just five centimetres from winning a medal.

Most memorable Olympic long jump: Mexico 1968

In the previous 33 years, the world record had advanced just 22 centimetres. That changed in the altitude of Mexico as in one single jump, the record improved by 55 centimetres or 22 inches.

Though the three medallists from 1964 were back, American Bob Beamon was the favourite but had a reputation for being inconsistent. He barely got through qualifying after two initial fouls but in the first round, with the benefit of perfect 2.0m/sec following wind, he sprinted hard down the runway and, he hit the board perfectly and then flew through the air like no previous other jumper.

The jump was measured at 8.90m, which many believed was the greatest athletic performance in history.

Not only was it the first ever jump of over 28 feet in history, it was also the first jump over 29 feet.

Beamon didn’t realise the magnitude of his jump initially but when he did he collapsed with shock.

His competitors fell apart mentally and found it hard to respond though East German Klaus Beer, who wasn’t expected to medal, had fewer problems and jumped a 8.19m PB to take the silver. Ralph Boston won bronze for his third successive medal.

Beamon’s 8.90m would last as a world record for 23 years and even 48 years later, the record has advanced just five centimetres and Beamon still lies second-all time. He never jumped further than 8.20m again.

» Check out editions of Athletics Weekly magazine from September 24, 2015, for more from our ‘Countdown to Rio’ series

» For the full Olympic history: Men’s long jump feature, including a complete list of medallists and further facts and stats, see the March 24, 2016, edition of AW magazine