Mike Powell jumps 8.95m to set a world record at the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo
The last time Mike Powell took a leap in a long jump competition was in the Atlanta Olympic final. Jumping with a groin injury suffered earlier that year, Powell ended up with a mouth full of sand in a futile attempt to scrape out a bronze medal on his final attempt. Instead, all Powell saw was a red flag to indicate a foul jump, and the world-record holder was consigned to an ignominious fifth place.
All of those memories will be forgotten on Saturday, however, as Powell makes a return to competitive action in the 60th Modesto Relays.
The pit at Modesto Junior College has been a favorite of American long jumpers over the years, and Powell hopes it will show that his recent training has not been in vain.
In an interview last February in the Orange County Register, Powell said that his post-Atlanta regimen--after the lingering groin injury forced his retirement--consisted of “motivational speaking, some coaching, and business interests.” Eating well was apparently also on his schedule, as his weight zoomed to 95 kilos, about 18 or 20 kilograms over his desired competition weight.
Powell was in Sydney for the Olympics last fall, working in association with an international children’s relief agency. While there, Michael Johnson saw the condition of his overweight friend and suggested a return to light training, “so long as you aren’t in pain.” But Johnson’s prodding had more to do with weight loss and lifestyle improvement than it did with any return to competition.
Meanwhile, Powell decided to return to school to earn a degree in sports psychology. Enrolling at Cal State Fullerton in September, Powell decided to volunteer his time as an unpaid coach for the school’s athletic team.
Powell also followed Johnson’s advice and resumed training. He discovered that all of the time away from training, from mid-1997 until late 2000, was the best medicine for his 37-year-old body. And the Fullerton jumpers were the perfect sparring partners as he eased back into his former life.
His weight was down to 82 kilos by mid-winter, with a few more to be shed by spring.
As the kilograms started to disappear and as his old condition began to return, Powell felt that he needed a goal to keep him focused. The Modesto Relays would be a good stage for such a comeback.
It won’t be like old times, with Lewis and Myricks and their like to keep the pressure on him. But his presence will be a reminder to the American fans of those days, lost of late, when the US was a dominant force in world long-jumping circles.
Ed Gordon for the IAAF