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Mexico City 1968 - Key Moments

Bob Beamon's leap into the history books

High altitude, high octane. In the rarefied air of a city perched over 2,000 meters above sea level, the Mexico Games of 1968 produced a feat that literally took the sports world's breath away.

Bob Beamon was its architect, leaping into Olympic folklore with a monumental 8.90 meter world record jump that was so long the measuring machine, which had formerly been used, had to be brought out of retirement one last and historic time.

It was hailed as one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time.

Beamon had almost missed the chance to etch his name in the Olympic roll of honor as he teetered dangerously close to getting himself eliminated in the qualifying round.

Qualified on his third jump

The 6-foot-3 American, favorite for the 1968 Olympic event, fouled -- something he was quite prone to doing -- on his first two attempts.

Eschewing the practice of making check marks to help his stride in the run-up to the board, Beamon took off way after the board on his first jump. His second attempt was also declared a nonjump, leaving him with one last throw of the dice.

His compatriot Ralph Boston, replicating the Luz Long-Jesse Owens chat of 1936, approached Beamon, telling him to relax and take off from a spot centimeters from the board.

He qualified with room to spare.

Beamon was marked down to go fourth in the 17-competitor final. With the first three competitors fouling, he stood at the end of the runway for 20 seconds, telling himself to make it a good one.

Whatever he said, it surely worked because he executed a perfect takeoff, flying through the air and into the history books.

Boston reportedly turned to the reigning Olympic long jump champion, Lyn Davies, and said: "That's over 28 feet."

"With his first jump, no it can't be," Davies responded incredulously.

They rushed to check as officials grappled with the marker on the new optical measuring device.

The old-fashioned steel tape measure had to be called for when the marker fell off the rail.

When the result was flashed up on the board for all the world to see, Beamon, suddenly conscious of what he had just done, collapsed to the ground, suffering what was later diagnosed as a catapletic seizure, a paralyzing physical reaction following great emotion.

Davies and many of the other competitors were too shaken by the enormity of what had happened to perform properly, with East Germany's Klaus Beer taking second almost an entire sand pit behind Beamon's mark.

Beamon's record was to stand for 23 years until Mike Powell's record-beating jump of 8.95m in Tokyo in 1991.

Beamon never again conjured up such magic, but then again, he surely didn't need to.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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