That night Carl Lewis was my rabbit: Mike Powell on world record jump | other sports | Hindustan Times
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That night Carl Lewis was my rabbit: Mike Powell on world record jump

Long jump world record holder Mike Powell says athletics misses the kind of rivalry he had with Carl Lewis

other sports Updated: Dec 15, 2017 10:40 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Mike Powell, former track and field athlete and long jump record holder, greets fans ahead of the 'Kolkata 25K' run in Kolkata on Thursday.
Mike Powell, former track and field athlete and long jump record holder, greets fans ahead of the 'Kolkata 25K' run in Kolkata on Thursday.(PTI)

It isn’t easy to move on if you have jumped the farthest in history. So, over 26 years after mankind’s biggest leap, Mike Powell seems to have accepted that the past would meld into his future. An interaction punctuated by full-throated laughter seemed to confirm that.

“It is hard to find something that brings as much joy. And as much as you want to leave it behind, people won’t let you. It’s good because you get to share a great moment in sports history but bad because it makes it very hard to move on,” Powell, 54, said here on Thursday evening.

Powell, international brand ambassador for Sunday’s Tata Steel Kolkata 25k run, then slipped back in time with ease. “The confidence and focus I showed that night (in Tokyo in 1991) is the moment I am most proud of,” he said, referring to the 8.95m leap that broke Bob Beamon’s 23-year-old world record (8.90m) and hasn’t been bettered since.

Carl Lewis had just gone 8.91m; not a world record because it was wind-aided, Powell pointed out. “That was the farthest jump in history but not for a millisecond did I doubt that I would pass that in my next jump. Because that night, I knew I was gonna go far if I got my run together. I had thought my second was some 8.25 but they said it was 8.54. Then Carl got 8.91m and he helped me focus. He was like the rabbit (pace-setter) in a middle-distance race. That night, Carl was my rabbit. Have never been so focused in my life.”

In a sport with a high difficulty quotient, one of the reasons why the record stands is, ‘because it is far’. “And also because Carl inspired top athletes, who could have long jumpers, to become sprinters. I just thought of jumping the farthest.”

His rivalry with Lewis is the kind athletics is missing now. “It pushed the envelope. You rarely have that, two athletes at the highest level in the same sport on a special event like the world championships. Can’t write a story better. It is like a movie, should be a movie,” he said.

That comment took the conversation to Usain Bolt’s domination and to Justin Gatlin being booed for denying him that final hurrah.

“I think Gatlin deserved better. He is a nice guy who followed the rules. It is another matter that I think a dope cheat should be banned for life. I am proud of what Gatlin did. That he failed a dope test would have bothered me if I was competing but I would have used that as motivation,” said Powell.

It was consistent with the zero-tolerance stand on doping that Powell said banning Russia was a good thing. “They seemed to have had a system set up across sport. Athletics made a statement (by banning them).”

Athletics needs better public relations to emphasise that they have the most stringent anti-drug system across sport, said Powell. “Other sports let it go. Athletics actually catches people and you are criticised for it. That’s double-standards. It needs to do a better job to educate the public.”

The lack of an Olympic gold was the elephant in the room till Powell brought it up himself. “It didn’t help that one of the greatest athlete of all time was competing in my sport but I should have won in 1992 and 1996. But I couldn’t do what was needed at the moment. 1991 was different. Then, I had laser-beam focus.”