The long jump gets competitive

14 Aug 2016

Greg Rutherford has dominated the long jump on the international stage for the last four years and has won pretty much everything on offer. His ruthless competitive streak has made him one of Britain’s greatest athletes. Unfortunately it was a step too far last night as he tried to retain his Olympic title and he end the competition with the bronze. But, wow, what a competition.

We were treated to a series of great jumps, a constant jostling for medal positions and athletes bringing their “A” game—including the Americans who have not been able to compete with Rutherford when it came to the crunch in recent years.

Positions of athletes per round, long jump final

Henderson’s 8.38m is also the best-winning mark since 2004, when Dwight Phillips (5th on the all-time list) posted 8.59m. The issue with the long jump now, which Carl Lewis will gladly point out, is that it does not compare favourably to what has gone before. Here’s all gold-winning marks at the Olympics, starting with Rome in 1960.

Gold-winning marks (metres) since 1960

There’s a point here. Bob Beamon’s altitude-assisted Olympic record (8.90) and Mike Powell’s world record (8.95m) seem almost untouchable. Lewis’s victories in ’84, ’88, ’92 and ’96 provide a nice bump for the event in the middle. However, in the last 10 years, the best competitor has only come within 2.4% of the world record (Phillips, 2009)—which is a similar percentage to the closest athlete (Richards-Ross) to the women’s 400m record, another mark considered unobtainable right now.

The situation is repeated in the women’s long jump. Britney Reese is the only athlete that has come within 2.8% of Chistyakova’s 7.52m, which the Soviet athlete put down in 1988. There are various reasons why we don’t criticise the current crop of athletes in certain events for not living up to the standards of the past. Some of those, some would argue, also apply to the men’s long jump. Right now, we say give us more competitions like the one we’ve just had—and the past won’t cast the same shadow.

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