Bob Beamon

Track & Field Athlete

“I always look back at when I didn't have a dream, when I didn't have a spirit. I didn't know what the Olympics was all about. I was just hanging out on the street. I was not humble. I was not a nice person, doing things that were socially unacceptable.”

Bob Beamon is an Olympic gold medalist and record-breaking track and field athlete, best known for his world record in the long jump at the Mexico Olympics in 1968.

Olympic gold medalist and record-breaking track and field star Bob Beamon was born on August 29, 1946, in Jamaica, New York. When he was eight months old, his mother, Naomi Brown Beamon, died of tuberculosis. On account of his stepfather's incarceration, Beamon’s maternal grandmother, Bessie, became his primary caregiver.

Beamon’s childhood was set against a background of violence, gangs and drugs. During a fight at school, Beamon struck a teacher and was expelled. He was sent to a juvenile detention center and then an alternative school for delinquents in New York. At this school, he learned discipline and began to look away from street culture.

Bob Beamon

Beamon used sports as a means to focus his attention and energy toward positive goals. He regularly broke track records at the local and state levels. After graduating from high school, Beamon attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to be close to his ill grandmother. When she died, he transferred to the University of Texas at El Paso, a school with a prominent track and field team.

In 1968, Beamon qualified for the Olympics in Mexico City. Four months before, he had been suspended from the University of Texas at El Paso track team for refusing to compete against Brigham Young University, a Mormon college with racist policies. This left Beamon without a coach. However, Olympian Ralph Boston began to coach him unofficially.

On October 18, 1968, Beamon made Olympic history when he broke the world record for the long jump. Beamon jumped 29 feet, 4 1/2 inches, beating the previous record by nearly two feet, setting a record that stood for twenty-three years, and becoming the first man to jump more than 28 feet.

Bob Beamon

In making his record jump, Beamon enjoyed a number of advantageous environmental factors. At an altitude of 2240 m, Mexico City's air had less resistance than air at sea level, although the rarefied atmosphere in Mexico City would have made a difference of only approximately 4 cm. Beamon also benefited from a tail wind of 2 meters per second on his jump, the maximum allowable for record purposes. It has been estimated that the tail wind and altitude may have improved Beamon's long jump distance by 31 cm (12.2 in.).

In addition to Beamon's record, world records were broken in most of the sprinting and jumping events at the 1968 Olympic Games. During the same hour Lee Evans set the world record for 400 metres that lasted for almost 20 years.

Beamon graduated from Adelphi University in 1972 with a degree in sociology. In 1999, Beamon and his wife, Milana Walter Beamon, co-wrote a book about his life, The Man Who Could Fly. He has been inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and the Olympic Hall of Fame.


Quick Facts

Birth Date:
October 7, 1934


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