Monday, October 18, 2010

October 18, 1968: Thin Air

MEXICO CITY - Going into the 1968 Summer Olympics, organizers were worried about how Mexico City's thin air would affect distance runners. The Olympics had never been held at an altitude anywhere close to the 7,300 feet athletes would have to endure in Mexico, and there were worries about adverse affects to some athletes.

Another thing that was expected, though, was for records to fall all over the place in the jumping events on the track. With much less air pressure holding them down, it was thought that the 1968 games would feature many new records in the sprinting and jumping events.

The predictions were correct, as world records were set in nine of the 23 men's track events and in seven of the 12 women's competitions. The men's triple jump was especially exciting, with the record falling four different times in the course of the competition.

The biggest splash, though, came in the long jump. Ralph Boston was the world record holder, having jumped 27 feet, 4 inches in 1965. He also held the Olympic record of 26 feet 7.5 inches set in 1960. Boston had broken the long jump record six times by himself in the 1960s and had gained a great deal of fame in 1960 by breaking the record Jesse Owens had set in 1936. Though he was no longer the national champion, Boston was still a well-known and highly regarded jumper when the 1968 games rolled around.

But Boston quickly became an afterthought in Mexico. On his first jump of the competition, Bob Beamon stunned the world with a jump of 8.90 meters, or 29 feet, 2.5 inches, a new world record by a landslide.

It wasn't the world record that stunned people - with how often the record had been broken in the 1960s, a new one was expected to be a given in these games. What was stunning was the margin by which the record had been broken. In his decade of long-jump dominance, Boston had extended the world record distance by 14 inches past Owens' 1936 mark. Beamon had just eclipsed the record by a stunning 22 inches. While Boston was the first man to jump 27 feet. Beamon had, in one jump, become the first man to clear both the 28-foot barrier and the 29-foot barrier. It was an absolutely stunning display. So stunning, in fact, that he had jumped beyond the measuring equipment that had been set up, forcing officials to find and bring in a manual tape measure.

For all practical purposes, the event was already over. Even though three more competitors reach distances that would have been Olympic records before Beamon jumped, nobody could come close to Beamon, and he easily won gold. In fact, it took 23 years for anybody to get close to Beamon, with Mike Powell finally breaking the record in 1991. Beamon's mark remains the Olympic record, and Beamon and Powell remain the only two men to ever jump 29 feet in official competition.

OCTOBER 18, 1924: A pair of college football games taking place 850 miles have had lasting effect in college football lore. In Champaign, Illinois, in the first game in the new Memorial Stadium, Illinois hosted Michigan, which had entered the game on a 20-game winning streak. The Wolverines had never faced Red Grange, though. The Illinois back returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, then added touchdown rns of 67, 56, and 44 yards, all in the game's first 12 minutes. Grange added another touchdown run and a scoring pass to lead Illinois to a 39-14 win. After the game, a pair of newspaper accounts referred to him as the Galloping Ghost, a nickname Grange held for the rest of his life. Another newspaper story made that day's Notre Dame-Army game live on in history, as well. After Notre Dame won 13-7, Grantland Rice wrote the most famous lead in college football history:
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

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