Updated at 12:40 a.m. March 7, 2015
According to posted results, world-record holder Mike Powell didn’t jump Saturday at the New Zealand national championships. Local media quoted Powell as saying: “I can’t really walk now. My whole left side isn’t working. I’m 51. I can still do some things, but things have to go right. It felt OK in the warmup, but in the approach run it wasn’t happening.”
The story said wind was strong and rain started pelting just as the event was set to start at 2 p.m. local time in Wellington (21 hours ahead of Pacific time). “I’m disappointed for the fans, but I can’t jump,” Powell said. “This is part of life. I’m not going to stop trying to break this record.”
In a Track & Field News message board posting, Powell is quoted as saying: “In the warm-up I felt a little tightness, but injuries are part of being an athlete and I was prepared to push through it. But as it started to get colder and more wet, my left leg started to lock up.”
Powell says he’ll be ready for another attempt in a couple of months.
New Zealand Athletics CEO Linda Hamersley told Times of San Diego via email: “Mike has done a wonderful job promoting the IAAF Nestle Kids Athletics programme and has been a great ambassador for IAAF in New Zealand. Mike has had some fantastic experiences in New Zealand and children and parents alike have been thrilled by the opportunity to meet a world record holder.”
Original story from Feb. 23, 2015:
At 51, Mike Powell looks at the American long jump scene and says: “The event has gone backward.” So he sees an opportunity to jump back in the game — maybe even make his fourth Olympic team.
And also make a buck.
Powell says he has a contract with organizers of the New Zealand national track and field championships. He’ll compete March 7, taking off with his right leg instead of the left one he used in 1991 to set the still-standing world record of 29 feet, 4 1/2 inches.
“When I jump, it’s going to be really entertaining,” he said.He made $25,000 in appearance fees for a Japanese event in 2007, he told Times of San Diego, but won’t make that much this time.
Before leaving Monday night on New Zealand Air, he said via phone: “This is a spiritual journey that I’m on right now. … We’ve got to be willing to do things outside the box.”
Powell made similar vows in 2006, 2007 and 2009 — saying he would set records in the 40-44 and 45-49 age groups, but injuries and other issues frustrated his attempts.
Monday, he said he can jump 23 feet (more than 6 inches better than the current 50-54 world record of 22-5 1/4 by a Finnish athlete in 1994). The listed American age-group record is 21-0¾, dating to 1980.
“I’m lean. I’m hungry,” he said, noting that he weighs 180 pounds — only 5 more than he did when he quit international competition after taking silver at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
He concedes being “really tight in places,” but says “I really understand my body right now.” That accounts for his decision to jump off his “weak” leg.
He says his “IT” (iliotibial) band is “really tight,” pulling on his lower knee. The “patella is not tracking,” he said, so he can’t “explode” off his left leg as he did in his Olympic days. He’s focusing on “glute strength” (the gluteal muscles of the butt).
Powell says competing in masters track (with fellow oldsters) is a “long-term” possibility, “but it’s not my goal right now,” since he still can leverage his fame and infrequent meet appearances.
“I can’t jump for free,” he said in a 50-minute chat. “There’s value in my jumping. I’m trying to earn a living here. … My name is Mike Powell. There’s value in that.”
Once weighing well over 200 pounds, Powell has said he shed 45 pounds. Monday, he cited yoga and “body balancing” but didn’t list any specific diet. “I don’t break it down like a chemist,” he said. But “no supplements. Just good choices.”
Powell notes how few Americans are exceeding 27 feet — only six since 2012. He blames the ascendance of basketball (and the one-sport focus of prep athletes) for the drop-off in U.S. long jump fortunes. He notes that a Jesse Owens’ 26-8 1⁄4 leap of 80 years ago would have a shot at making the 2016 Olympic team.
Coached by Darryl Hudson at his Rancho Cucamonga center, Powell also is encouraged by other fifty-something athletes, including his childhood hero Willie Banks, the former world record-holder in the triple jump who lives in Carlsbad and sets age-group records in the high jump. (“I’m a little Willie clone,” Powell says. “Even more silly.”)
As Powell sees it, if 50-year-old Willie Gault can run 100 meters in a time only 7 percent slower that his all-time best, maybe he (Powell) can jump 7 percent off his 1991 world record (which beat Bob Beamon’s mythic mark at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics).
Powell estimates his potential is 27-4 1/2 — or 2 feet off his best. But he’s unsure of his sprint speed — a key to jumping.
Nine years ago, he said, he could run ten 100-meter dashes in 13 seconds each, with 47 seconds’ rest between each sprint. But his most recent timed 100 was 12.8 seconds in August, he says. (The world record for men his age is Gault’s 10.88.)
Though he admits he hasn’t been able to do full training, he says: “Speed is just a matter of how you position your body. … I’m just getting used to running again.”
Even if he isn’t in his best shape, Powell says: “I know how to jump hurt. I’m wired this way. I can jump 23 feet. It’s not that hard. It’s physics.”
Powell would be 52 if he makes it to the 2016 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. To qualify, he would need to jump about 26-5. The last time he went that far was May 12, 2001, when he leaped 26-5 1/4 in winning the Modesto Relays at age 37.
Powell has two daughters by a former wife and one by a Canadian girlfriend, with the oldest being Micha Powell, 20, who sprints for the University of Maryland. On Twitter, Micha’s motto is “Carpe the hell out of this diem.”
Powell appears to be seizing the same sentiment.
In the releases, Powell said of the New Zealand meet:
“This is an exciting challenge for me to actually compete with athletes half my age and I am confident about breaking the Masters record. … It will be interesting to see the dynamics of the competition. Will the other athletes relax a little and take it for granted they can beat the old man? Or will they be motivated to try harder for bragging rights by beating Mike Powell the World record holder?”
“Either way I will be energized. This is not like the ceremonial throwing out of the first ball in baseball. I am going to New Zealand to strike out but to win the event and break the Masters record. … The other athletes should not be deceived by my age. I may be a little slower than when I beat Carl Lewis in 1991 but with age comes knowledge. Along with personal training I have been studying advanced techniques and have unique long jump knowledge that probably nobody in the world possesses.”
With longtime publicist Keith Hunt in tow, Powell will be busy Down Under this week. He’ll make at least seven appearances, including several on behalf of IAAF Nestle Kids Athletics, a program that aims to draw young people to the sport.
Then at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 7, Powell will test himself in the senior (over-20) long jump at the 5,000-seat stadium at Newtown Park in Wellington on New Zealand’s north island.
“This is the beginning of what it’s going to be,” Powell said. “Even if I never jump, I’ve already won. The people who question (my goal) are the motivation. The time is now.”
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