In a continuing series, Steve Smythe looks back at the men’s triple jump at the Olympics
This event could potentially see something special in Rio. In the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, Christian Taylor went second all-time with an 18.21m leap. He also broke 18 metres on two other occasions but in one of those events was beaten by Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who had a best of 18.08m last year.
Pichardo took silver in China but like the American has world record potential.
American champion James Connolly was an easy first Olympic gold medallist in Athens in 1896, winning by over a metre with a 13.71m leap. This was unusually achieved with two hops and a jump instead of the usual hop, step and jump.
It was the first event of the Games so he uniquely became the first Olympic champion for over 1500 years.
Connolly jumped further in Paris in 1900 but had to settle for silver behind Meyer Prinstein’s 14.47m.
Prinstein retained his title in St Louis in 1904, where he also won the long jump. The triple jump wasn’t a true Olympic event, though, as all seven finalists were Americans.
Britain/Ireland won the next two Games and USA went empty-handed in both 1908 and 1912. In Stockholm in 1912, the home nation dominated with Gustaf Lindblom leading a Swedish clean-sweep of the medals.
Eight years later in Antwerp, post World War Two, Swedes took second to fourth place with Erik Almlof matching his bronze from 1912 but gold narrowly went to their Nordic neighbours Finland as Vilho Tuulos won by two centimetres.
In Paris in 1924, Tuulos jumped almost a metre further but ended up third as the first five bettered the previous Olympic record.
The winner was Australian Nick Winter, who was the first from his country to take part in any field event. The event was not that well known in Australia and wasn’t even included in their Championships until 1930. He won with a world record 15.52m.
Another new nation came to the fore in 1928 in Amsterdam as Mikio Oda won Asia’s first ever Olympic title at any event with a 15.21m leap.
Japan did even better in the 1932 Games in Los Angeles as Chuhei Nambu won with a world record 15.72m and they also won bronze.
They made it three golds in a row in Berlin in 1936 as Naoto Tajima became the world’s first 16-metre jumper as he won with a 16.00m leap from team-mate Masao Harada.
Like Nambu, Tajima had earlier finished third in the long jump.
After the Second World War, Japan were absent from London in 1948 as Sweden’s Arne Ahman narrowly came out on top.
In Helsinki in 1952, new nations emerged at the event in the Olympics as world record-holder Adhemar da Silva bettered his world record with four jumps peaking with a 16.22m.
The Soviets won their first jumps medal through Leonid Shcherbakov while Arnoldo Devonish won Venezuela’s first medal at any event in third.
The Brazilian became the only South American athlete to ever win two Olympic titles when he upped his Olympic record to 16.35m after trailing Iceland’s surprise Vihjalmur Einarsson at halfway.
There was also a multi champion in 1960 and 1964. Jozef Schmidt of Poland became the first man over 17 metres prior to Rome, then won with an Olympic record 16.81m which he upped to 16.85m four years later.
While two golds are impressive enough, Viktor Sanyeyev went one better in 1976.
He first won in Mexico (see most memorable Olympics below) and then retained his title in Munich with a 17.35m leap – then the third best jump of all-time to narrowly beat Jorg Drehmel who had beaten him in the 1971 European Championships.
The Soviet had to come from behind to win in Montreal with a 17.29m fifth round jump to deny James Butt, who did at least become America’s first medallist for 48 years. World record-holder Joao Carlos de Oliveira finished third.
Sanyeyev thus became the fourth athlete to win three individual titles in the same event after standing jumper Ray Ewry, hammer thrower John Flanagan and discus thrower Al Oerter.
He tried to match Oerter’s four in a row in Moscow and came close but finished second with 17.24m but the Soviets
still won gold as Jaak Uudmae jumped 17.35m.
The competition was marred by De Oliveira being booed while jumping as the home nation’s major competition with Soviet judges contentiously deciding that nine of the 12 jumps of De Oliveira and Australian Ian Campbell were fouls.
Campbell had one huge jump where they claimed he dragged his trail foot and they raked the pit before his protest could be acted upon.
The Soviets boycotted Los Angeles in 1984 and America dominated with Al Joyner winning with a windy 17.26m from team-mate Michael Conley.
The Soviets had three of the top four places at Seoul in 1988 but lost out on gold to Bulgarian Khristo Markov’s first round 17.61m. The first three bettered Sanyeyev’s Olympic record.
Conley had missed out on making the US team in Korea but was in superb form for Barcelona in 1992 as he achieved the best jump in history – a startling 18.17m. It was 20 centimetres better than the world record but was fractionally over the legal limit with a 2.1m/sec tailwind. It was the only windy jump of the whole competition. His 57-centimetre victory was the widest since the first Olympics in 1896.
Atlanta in 1996 saw another superb American jump as Kenny Harrison shocked world record-holder Jonathan Edwards. First he opened with an Olympic record 17.99m and then improved to 18.09m.
Edwards won in Sydney (see British successes) and the title stayed in Europe in Athens in 2004 as Christian Olsson of Sweden leapt a lifetime outdoor best 17.79m and in Beijing in 2008 with Nelson Evora giving Portugal a rare title.
The USA was back on top in London in 2012 through Christian Taylor’s 17.81m jump which gave him a comfortable gold over team-mate Will Claye.
In Athens in 1906 the event was dominated by two Irishmen competing for Britain with Peter O’Connor and Con Leahy taking a one-two.
Britain, again thanks to Ireland, also won gold in 1908 in London as Tim Ahearne won with his final jump upping the Olympic record to 14.92m.
The first genuine British medal went to Keith Connor in 1984, though a bronze medal in 16.87m was only achieved because of the Soviet boycott. It was also a metre down on his windy 17.82m set when winning the 1982 Commonwealth Games.
Jonathan Edwards became the world record-holder in 1995 as he famously won the world title in Gothenburg with a huge 18.29m. There was huge pressure on him in Atlanta in 1996 but despite jumping 17.88m – still the third best jump in Olympic history – he had to settle for silver behind Kenny Harrison.
He didn’t need to jump as far in Sydney 2000 as the oldest man in the competition won easily with a top quality 17.71m leap.
Larry Achike was in third place until the final round but ended up fifth.
Phillips Idowu finished sixth in Australia and eight years later he came very close to winning as he jumped 17.62m to take the lead in the third round but Nelson Evora went five centimetres further the following round.
Most memorable Olympic triple jump: Mexico 1968
The world record leading into the Games was Jozef Schmidt’s 17.03m from Rome, eight years earlier. It didn’t last the qualifying rounds in Mexico’s rarified air, though, as Guiseppe Gentile jumped 17.10m.
The Italian started the final with a stunning 17.22m to improve his world record. That stayed in front in the second round, though Nelson Prudencio moved into second with a huge PB of 17.05m, while Viktor Sanyeyev (16.84m) and defending champion Schmidt (16.77m) moved in contention with marks that had never failed to get at least a silver medal.
In the third round, the Georgian Sanyeyev, competing for the Soviet Union, took Gentile’s lead and world record with a 17.23m leap.
Sanyeyev was the best of the fourth round too with his second best ever jump of 17.02m.
Sensationally in the fifth round, though, Prudencio went ahead with a 17.27m – over a metre further than he had jumped prior to arriving in Mexico. It was all down to the last round and Sanyeyev showed what a superb competitor he was, setting the fifth world record in Mexico with a winning 17.39m – history’s first 57-footer.
Some viewed it suspiciously though that both the first two athletes’ jumps were set with the maximum legal windspeed allowed –2.0m/sec.
Sanyeyev’s mark was enough for gold but Prudencio followed up with a 17.15m leap while American Art Walker also bettered the pre-competition world record with a 17.12m. Fifth-placer Nicolai Dudkin also bettered the previous mark with 17.09m.
Schmidt jumped 16.89m – further than his two gold medal-winning jumps but ended up seventh.
Altogether there were eight jumps in Mexico better than the previous world record and 12 jumps in advance of the Olympic mark.
» 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 triple jump feature, including a complete list of medallists and further facts and stats, see the March 31, 2016, edition of AW magazine