Now at age 58, he’s planning a comeback. And for the fourth time in 15 years, Powell is pledging to set a world age-group record.
In April, Powell recorded a video in Tampere, Finland, site of the 24th World Masters Athletics Championships in late June and early July. He said: “Not only am I going to be an ambassador. I’m also jumping. Come out and see a world record.”
But Michael Anthony Powell isn’t settling for an incremental improvement.
“My goal is to jump 7 meters,” he told Times of San Diego in a phone interview. That’s 22-11 1/2.
Such a mark would be Beamonesque. (When Bob Beamon jumped 29-2 1/2 at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, he raised the world record from 27-4 1/2 — skipping 28 feet entirely.)
Powell, who broke Beamon’s iconic record with a 29-4 1/4 at the 1991 Tokyo world meet, only has to clear 21-4 to exceed the age-group record held by Italy’s Gianni Becatti. (The American record is 20-1 1/2.)
“If I can run, I’m going to go that far,” he said from his home in Rancho Cucamonga. “If I can push off the ground, I’m going to do that. … When I go look at the (basketball) rim, I can jump up and grab the rim with both hands. Easily. That’s how I know I can jump.”
His earlier predictions didn’t go so well, however.
In 2007, he announced plans to attack the 40-44 world record. No dice.
In 2015, he entered a New Zealand meet with every jump deemed an M50 record attempt. But he suffered an injury in warmup and didn’t compete.
And in 2016, he aimed to qualify for the Rio Games team, saying: “I told my daughters that Daddy is going to the Olympics. I got to make it!”
He didn’t make it to the Olympic Trials.
“I am the master of the long jump; I am the Beethoven of the long jump,” Powell said at age 52. “I am the Bach of the long jump. If they said they were coming back to write some music, you would not doubt them. Don’t doubt me.”
Last week, he shared new reasons for optimism.
“I really started working on my flexibility, and I started using different aspects of yoga breathing,” he said. “I’ve always been really tight.”
Through relaxation, he’s learned how to stretch — “and I learned how to loosen my hips and my ankles. … I learned a lot about the body that I never knew,” said Powell, who coaches high schoolers and elite athletes at Pomona Pitzer College in Claremont.
He texted a video clip showing him “just striding” on the infield two months and “8 pounds ago.” (He’s now 190 but hopes to compete at 185 at Tampere, two hours north of Helsinki.)
As in the past, he pushes back against doubters, pooh-poohing issues like loss of muscle mass and speed.
“That’s the reason I’m doing this,” says Powell, who claims 13- or 14-second 100-meter speed. “Everybody says: ‘C’mon, man.’ I’m like: ‘Why do I have to think like you guys do? You’re the guys who are out of shape.’ … I’m not that. I’ve never been that. I’m a freak-of-nature athlete and I will always be that.”
Three years ago, he says, he bench-pressed 315 pounds. But he’s halted the heavy lifting, fearing he’d get too big in the upper body. He continues plyometric jumps in training.
“I jump every day,” he says. “I’m standing in front of my bench right now and I’m jumping on top of my bench. I just jumped. I jump every single day. Hundreds of times a day.”
Of the 21-4 world record, he says: “That’s nothing. That’s just me moving down the track. … When you jump, speed times height equals distance…. I have plenty enough speed and plenty enough power and plenty enough know how at takeoff to generate 6 meters 51. Easily. Easily.”
The Italian’s record — set at the 2018 world masters meet in Málaga, Spain — is 6.50 meters.
“I run every day,” adds the two-time Olympic silver medalist (behind Carl Lewis). “I can beat my high school kids…. The big reason I’m doing this is everybody keeps putting limitations on what the human body can do. We don’t know what it can do, especially with the technology today. Think about Jack LaLanne back in the day. … If you’re strong, you’re strong. If you know what you’re doing, you know what you’re doing.”
His rivals don’t doubt that.
Masters record man Becatti — contacted via Facebook — is entered in the same event as Powell in Finland and says he’s honored to compete with “the greatest long jumper of all time!”
“I think that someone like him, with his immense talent, can do much better than I did,” he said. “After all, there are [3 feet 8 inches] between my PB (7.84 when I was 26) and his 8.95. Obviously I will do my best even if unfortunately I have not jumped for three years due to plantar fasciitis. But in these two months I will try to resume with jumps.”
Three dozen men will vie for his age-group’s long jump gold on July 6. They include two other Americans — Antonio Palacios and Alan Sims.
Palacios of Bloomington, Indiana, has broken the 50-54 American record twice in recent years, with his best from 2019 being 21-3 1/2. He’s now 56.
His all-time best is 8 meters — 26-3. And 10 years ago he set the still-standing indoor world record for ages 45-49 of 6.98 meters — 22-10 3/4.
He’s never met Powell, but says he’s “absolutely thrilled to have the all-time LJ World Record Holder throw down with us in Finland for Team Masters USA!”
Palacios say Powell, the former UCLA star, looks ready.
“It will certainly be quite a long jump show,” he said. “Also having three Olympic jump legends, along with Powell, Willie Banks (HJ 65), and James Beckford (LJ 45), should bring some much needed exposure to the jumping events and to our great sport in general.”
Sims of Cypress, Texas, boasts an all-time best of 25-11 and jumped for Blinn College (and also played football.) He’s fouled on some 6-meter (19-8) jumps in practice this year.
He won’t let Powell’s presence intimidate him.
“Not at all,” says Sims, 57. “That’s the motivation that’s going to fuel my training.”
(If Powell does jump 7 meters, it would beat the world age-group record for the 50-54 age group of 22-5 by Finland’s Tapani Taavitsainen. Exceeding a younger group’s record is rare but happens. Del Mar’s Nadine O’Connor pole-vaulted 10-5 1/1 for the 65-69 group after setting the 60-64 record three years earlier at 10-3.)
Powell explained why his last outing — in 2017 — didn’t work out.
“I slowly started feeling worse and worse and worse. But I still felt: If I could get down the runway a couple times, I’m going to get a jump off,” he said of the New Zealand meet. “But then when the weather came, and it got super cold, and I couldn’t get warm at all, my back never loosened up. My Achilles’ just tightened up and I couldn’t even move. It wasn’t going to happen.”
Having recovered some flexibility, Powell says he’s become a better coach who can demonstrate certain actions.
“Makes me want to go out there and jump,” he said with a laugh. “So my whole body is starting to turn on again. … Once it gets going, it’s kind of scary what can happen.”
Powell has been a World Athletics ambassador for years, and he take that role seriously, too.
“I’m doing (the promotion) for track,” he says. “There’s a lot of athletes out there who are still fit, and they coach and they can still do stuff. But there’s no … outlet for them. The people who do the masters aren’t the people who are the best athletes.”
He dreams of a track-and-field circuit that can showcase former elites like him.
“What do you think’s gonna happen when you get the best athletes who did it before, doing it at a high level and doing it efficiently better than they did when they were [professional] athletes?” he says.
He also wants non-elites to make the jump.
“Now what would happen if you lost weight and got flexible like a yogi?” Powell asks. “It doesn’t mean you can run down the court with the 15-year-olds, but you can play HORSE with your grandson.”
Powell won’t have to persuade Olympian Willie Banks of Carlsbad, his former idol and close friend — who once held the world record in the triple jump but still competes at the highest level of masters track (setting records along the way).
Powell tells how they both thrill at simply jumping.
“This is what Willie and I do: We’re walking through an airport, and we’re bored,” he says. “We look at the ceiling and start seeing who can jump the highest to touch the ceiling. We’re jumpers, man!”
Banks is among two dozen men entered in the 65-69 age-group high jump in Finland (along with 1976 Olympian Jim Barrineau of Georgia).
What does Banks think Powell can jump in Tampere?
“20-21 ft,” Banks said via email.