Mike Powell soared into track and field’s record books with an unbelievable leap of 8.95m/29 ft., 4½ in. – snapping Carl Lewis’ 10-year, 65-meet long jump winning streak – 30 years ago this week.
Powell’s world record long jump at the Tokyo 1991 IAAF World Championships still stands today, the oldest existing men’s outdoor world record.
“It took me to break an unbreakable world record just to beat him and even then when I broke the record, I fully expected him to come back and break the record again,” Powell says of the memorable competition, while referring to his rival Lewis, a four-time Olympic long jump champion.
“Everything came together at once – defeating Carl, breaking the world record, and winning the world championship title on one jump, and really kind of making my introduction into the world,” Powell says, his world record coming on his fifth jump.
“I went into the competition expecting to break the world record, because I knew I would have to do that in order to beat Carl,” he said.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Powell, 57, moved to Southern California with his family when he was 11, and has resided in the Los Angeles area ever since. He enrolled at the University of California Irvine, before transferring to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a campus that will serve as the Olympic Village and a training center for the L.A. 2028 Games.
“Being a Southern Californian, I’m really, really proud and its going to be a chance for us to showcase what L.A. can do with the Games,” says the two-time Olympic long jump silver medalist. “1984 was one of the first Games that was profitable.
“I’m really looking forward to it happening again because there are so many different venues in Los Angeles that are already there and they aren’t going to need to build much.”
Powell has fond memories of the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Then 20, he worked as a driver for Swedish television.
“I had just transferred to UCLA and I had a summer job at the Olympics as a driver for Swedish TV and Radio,” Powell says. “They were joking with me because my best jump at the time was 8.13 meters or 26 feet 8 and ½ and if I was Swedish, I would have been their national record holder.
“As their driver, I had an all access pass, so I got to see all of the big events in person, while watching from the press areas.”
Powell says that despite fears of congestion and gridlock, ultimately traffic was not a problem during the 1984 Games.
“Everyone was so scared about the traffic and I remember because I lived just outside of L.A. then too, everyone was scared and a lot of people left town, so there was no traffic on the freeways in the middle of the day,” Powell recalls. “It just shows what we could do when we pull things together.
“Hopefully, they’ll put in a little bit more infrastructure to help make it easier for people to move around,” the L.A. resident adds.
Powell hopes to continue the coaching that he is currently doing in the L.A. area and has visions of starting a foundation to mentor young athletes.
“My goal is to work with young athletes and get them to see the Olympic Games as something they can participate in and get that geared up going toward 2028,” Powell says.
“I always tell athletes that when I was growing up in West Covina, California, nobody thought that I was going to be an Olympian, a world championship gold medalist and a world record holder, so if I can do it, why can’t you guys.
“That is what I want to bring across to the athletes and I hope to be coaching someone there in 2028,” he said.
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