Olympic track and field enthusiasts certainly remember the name Carl Lewis. Lewis is still the only man to win gold in the long jump four consecutive Olympics. However, do you recall who finished won the silver medal in the long jump during two of those Olympic Games?
His name is Michael Anthony Powell. If not for the phenomenal talent of Carl Lewis, Powell might be the most decorated long jumper in U.S. Olympic history. Powell captured silver medal honors behind Lewis at Seoul in 1988, and again at Barcelona in 1992.
However, it may have been at the World Championships in Tokyo in between these two Olympics that Powell exceeded expectations. The 1991 World Championship in the long jump competition is referred to as the greatest in track and field history.
During the 1991 long jump event, both Lewis and Powell battled for the top spot. During his fourth jump, Lewis broke the existing 23-year-old record held by fellow American Bob Beamon. Beamon set the mark during the 1968 Olympics, a record many saw as virtually beyond reach.
Lewis’ jump was determined to be wind aided, so Beamon’s existing mark still stood. However, a round later, Powell would eclipse the distance, setting a new world record at 8.95 meters (29-feet, 4½-inches).
Powell’s World Championship winning jump exceeded Beamon’s Mexico City gold medal distance by 2-inches. Lewis’ would come within inches of outdistancing Powell in Tokyo, including holding the new world record momentarily.
But ultimately Powell would claim the gold medal in a historic long jump competition that saw a record lasting more than two-decade fall twice in one competition. Mike Powell would continue to his World Championship dominance.
In 1993, he won his second gold medal at the World Championships. Powell’s best jump of 8.59 at Gottlieb Daimler Stadium in Stuttgart, Germany, was good enough to win the competition. He would take home the Bronze medal two years later in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Powell missed the silver medal in 1995 by a fraction of an inch to Jamaican James Beckford. As a result of his world record performance in 1991, Powell won the James E. Sullivan Award as the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States.
That same year, the BBC honored Powell with its Overseas Sports Personality of the Year. Powell won the award eight years after his long jump nemesis Carl Lewis claimed the honor in 1983.
Powell was actually noted for his high jumping skills in high school. While he was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Powell attended high school at Edgewood High School in West Covina, California. He finished second in the high jump during the 1981 California state meet.
Powell would enroll at UC Irvine, but later transfer to UCLA. However, he matured into his body slowly, so he did not become a strong competitor until after leaving college. By the 1988 Olympic Games, Powell had cemented himself as one of the best long jumpers in the world.
Mike Powell’s world record in the long jump still stands today. He also owns the longest non-legal jump at 8.99 meters. He set this mark at high altitude in Sestriere, Italy in 1992. To go with his pair of World Championship gold medals, Powell also took gold in the long jump during the 1994 Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia.
After he officially retired, Powell worked for Yahoo Sports as a track and field analyst. He has mentioned returning to competition to target the Masters over-45 world record in the long jump. An attempt at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships ended with an injury before he even took his first attempt.
Powell still insists he will jump again, with his sights on another world record. Mike Powell is currently the long jump coach for the Academy of Speed located in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Powell’s daughter Micha was named to the Canadian Olympic team in 2016.
While Mike Powell never earned an Olympic gold medal in the long jump, he is revered as one of the greatest long jumpers in U.S. Olympic history. If not for the tremendous talent of Carl Lewis, Powell would have a pair of Olympic gold medals to go with his string of stellar World Championship performances.
Considering his entire body of work during his career, it’s hard not to consider Michael Anthony Powell as one of the greatest long jumpers in U.S. track and field history, if not the greatest.