I remember the surreal visual image of Bob Beamon's incredible long jump at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. He seemed to soar forever—then finally touched down in what remained of the pit, hop-hop-hopping off the remnants of his adrenaline overload.
When the unbelievable measurement was eventually posted, Beamon collapsed in an emotional heap on the track. He had shattered the existing world record (27-4.75) by nearly two feet!
As the initial shock began to wear off, I joined the rest of the world in thinking, "That record will NEVER be broken!"
Fortunately for future athletes, and for the world of sport, not everyone bought into that thinking.
It did take 23 years and a constant pounding by the likes of Robert Emmiyan, Larry Myrics, and Carl Lewis, but eventually, Mike Powell did accomplish the impossible, soaring 29-5.5.
History tells us also that Jesse Owens' world record long jump endured for 25 years.
So please excuse me if I haven't endorsed the notion that Usain Bolt is the ultimate athlete of all time.
Records were indeed made to be broken.
In that vein, I became interested in digging out some current world records in track and field—records with some longevity—to see just how they're holding up against the years of challenge and assault.
I chose to focus on world records which have remained intact for at least 20 years, thinking a generation of progress in technology, equipment, and training should provide a minimum test of time.
Here is what I discovered—with some opinionated comments where they apply:
3/07/82 400m 49.59 Jamila Kratochvilova Czech.
American Debbie Dunn ran an impressive 50.86 world-best this year. If she gets the benefit of a strong field at the World Indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar, a sub 50 is possible. However, the 400 is a tough race indoors, and it's no accident this record has stood for 28 years.
2/09/90 Mile 4:17.14 Doina Melinte Romania
Top challengers American Jenny Barringer and Gelete Burka of Ethiopia are in the 4:24 range. This record is safe.
2/13/88 Long Jump 7.37/24-2.25 Heike Drechsler E. Germany
The great Drechsler was a leaper. No one in the world today is jumping beyond 6.9 meters indoors.
2/19/77 Shot put 22.50/73-10 Helena Fibingerova Czech.
That's out there! Nadezhda Ostapchuk of Belarus has been launching monstrous missiles over 21 meters which seem weak by comparison. New Zealand's Valerie Vili is doing no better—even outdoors. This is an impressive 33-year-old indoor record!
3/04/89 High Jump 2.43/7-11.5 Javier Sotomayor Cuba
Russian Ivan Ukhov's current world-best is only six centimeters shy, but in the high jump a silly centimeter can be like psychological razor wire. The best Americans are in the 2.35 range.
1/27/84 Long Jump 8.79/28-10.25 Carl Lewis USA
The best indoor jump this year is 27-0.5 by Frenchman Salim Sdiri. If only World Outdoor Champion Dwight Phillips (28-8.25) would compete indoors, this remarkable record might finally fall. If only...
1/20/89 Shot put 22.66/74-4.25 Randy Barnes USA
American Christian Cantwell is the top putter in the world right now, consistently hitting the 72-foot mark. One can only hope another matchup with Poland's Tomasz Majewski develops at the Worlds in Doha. The two have a competitive chemistry which often results in personal or meet records. The world record is still safe though...for now.
7/16/88 100 meters 10.49 Florence Griffith Joyner, USA
9/29/88 200 meters 21.34 Florence Griffith Joyner, USA
Regrettably, Flo-Jo's 100 meter mark carries too much baggage (Wind aided? Chemical enhancement?). As long as that amazing time is recognized, no one will touch it for years. Her next-best time (10.61) would still be a record, but is at least reachable. American Carmelita Jeter's excellent 10.64 from 2009 shows she is ready to claim history's second-fastest time.
Demonstrating a resurgence of American women's sprints, Allyson Felix was the lone sub-22 runner in 2009 (21.88). Flo-Jo's world record still looms half-a-second distant—a huge gap. Perhaps the talented Sanya Richards (22.29) might occasionally step down from her 400m specialty to push Felix?
10/06/85 400 meters 47.60 Marita Koch E. Germany
Speaking of Richards, she fairly dominates the 400 these days, and the American record-holder (48.70) is on a roll. Before she can think of Koch's world mark, she must break through the 48-second barrier. I really think a new world record by Richards is an eventuality. Perhaps Felix (49.83) can move up from 200m to push Sanya? Think of them as a track and field tag team.
7/26/83 800 meters 1:53.28 Jamila Kratochvilova Czech.
There is only one person on the planet right now who has a chance at this record and that person is languishing in a political prison of confusing medical questions in South Africa. Caster Semenya, who at 18 won the 2009 World Championships in 1:55.45, is still waiting for the IAAF to rule whether she can compete as a woman. She has not raced since.
8/20/88 100 Hurdles 12.21 Yordanka Donkova Bulgaria
This record seems vulnerable with five ladies currently running under 12.50. Top threats are Jamaica's Brigette Foster-Hylton, Canada's Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Americans Lolo Jones and Dawn Harper.
8/30/87 High Jump 2.09/6-10.25 Stefka Kostadinova Bulgaria
That silly centimeter again. That's all that seperates Croatia's Blanka Vlasic (2.08) from a piece of the record. We will see a new record soon. Apart from Vlasic, only Germany's Ariane Friedrich (2.06) is within range.
6/11/88 Long Jump 7.52/24-8.25 Galina Chistyakova Sov. Union
Jackie Joyner-Kersee came oh, so close in 1994 (7.49/24-7). American Brittney Reese is the only current jumper with a wisp of a chance. Still, her best (7.10/23-3.5) is well back.
9/24/88 Heptathlon 7291 points Jackie Joyner-Kersee USA
Speaking of Joyner-Kersee, this record is safe for awhile. The little fireball from Great Britain, Jessica Ennis (6731), is fun to watch but has some work to do to even get close.
6/07/87 Shot Put 22.63/74-3 Natalya Lisovskaya Sov. Union
7/09/88 Discus 76.80/252-0 Gabriele Reinsch E. Germany
The best efforts of New Zealand's Valerie Vili in the shot, and Cuba's Yarelis Barrios in the discus trail far behind these ancient eastern bloc records.
5/20/90 Shot Put 23.12/75-10.25 Randy Barnes USA
Again, it seems Cantwell and possibly Majewski are the only remote challengers to Barnes' incredible throw. American Adam Nelson is moving up.
6/06/86 Discus 74.08/243-0 Jurgen Schult E. Germany
Estonia's Gerd Kanter (71.64/235-0) is probably hungry to redeem himself after a poor showing in the 2009 Worlds. This 24-year-old record could come down soon.
8/30/86 Hammer 86.74/284-7 Yuiry Syedikh Sov. Union
When Slovenia's Primoz Kosmus (love that name) suddenly retired, he left the world's best remaining challengers five meters short. The record will stand for now.
As Beamon demonstrated in Mexico City, (and Owens and Bolt in Berlin), sometimes the conditions are right, the stars are aligned, and the athlete is in the zone.
It's human nature to at first think history either began or ended at that moment.
Then, in time, we eventually realize it's also human nature to move on...until that next magic moment.
source: Track and Field News