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Sail West to Find East
David Morey -- Dedicated to Helping Companies Win David Morey -- Dedicated to Helping Companies Win
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Washington , DC
Thursday, November 14, 2019


Innovating Innovation Chapter 3He barely qualifies to stand here. The day before, he had overstepped the takeoff board—twice!—then remeasured his steps and took a careful, safe third and final jump from behind the board to squeeze into the 1968 Olympic long jump final in the razor-thin air of lofty Mexico City and amid the racial and social protests of the era.

This is the Olympic Final. He watches the first three men over-run the takeoff board and foul, just as he had done in the qualifying round. Now, at last, it’s his turn. In an agony of nerves, he waits an eternal twenty seconds before galloping down the runway.

Later, he remembered: “I could not feel my legs under me I was floating.”

It feels good. His foot hits the board perfectly, and he is up, forward, and in motion. Now, with little control over his own destiny, he floats for a full six seconds, rising and hitch kicking his way along the rarified 7,350-foot Mexico City air. He extends his feet to land as far forward as possible and immediately feels he might have gone even farther, because he falls mistakenly backwards, losing some precious inches that can make the difference between a gold medal and nothing. He bounds out of the sand pit—bouncing and bouncing up and down like a Kangaroo.

It feels good. And the big crowd seems to agree, reacting immediately as if they can sense something special has just happened. But he has no real idea. He can only wait with everyone else. He thought, he hoped, he might win a medal—but maybe, maybe this will be something more.

Five minutes pass. Ten. Then fifteen minutes.

What is going on? What is taking so long?

He is told that the new electronic system cannot measure this leap, but, eventually someone rummages through a bag and produces a good-old-fashioned measuring tape.

He waits.

Finally, it hits the scoreboard: 8.90 meters.

But he did not learn meters at Jamaica High School, Queens, New York, where my friend, Larry Ellis, discovered this talented athlete. So, he’s still in the dark, unaware of what he’s done.

Then the announcer, tremendously excited, shouts out in English: “Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Beamon has just crushed the world record….” And they announce his jump, in feet now, twenty-nine feet and two and a half inches.

It’s still difficult to comprehend—not just for this long jumper, but for the crowd. Bob Beamon has just broken the world record by twenty-one and three-quarter inches. It is a world record that had been broken before this only twelve times since 1901, by an average increment of only two and a half inches. It’s no wonder, Beamon’s long jump is an Olympic record still today, fifty years later. It is a jump that redefines not just Beamon’s own sport, but athletic achievement itself.

The physiologist Ernst Jokl has a word for what happens next: “cataplexy,” by which the emotional shock of something takes not just your breath away but steals your ability to stand or even move your body. So, Bob Beamon, the man who has just redefined athletic achievement itself in the accidentally perfect jump of the century cannot rise to his own feet.

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