Beamon, Bob 1946–
Bob Beamon 1946–
Olympic gold medalist, entrepreneur
Reinventing oneself from a rough youth in a tough neighborhood to an entrepreneur and community advocate might be grounds to call someone a success. Establishing a world record in a sporting event with worldwide competition would enable someone to earn the title of “highly respected.” Do that with an Olympic record that stands unbeaten for 23 years and, well, you might as well be named Bob Beamon.
Beamon immortalized himself in sporting history when he destroyed the world and Olympic records in the long jump during the 1968 games in Mexico City. From a sketchy upbringing replete with gangs, violence, and the threat of jail, Beamon created quite a recipe for success. He took that negativity, mixed it with the rejuvenation of a second chance, added intense determination, and turned it into the fuel that powered him across a sand pit in Mexico and earn him a gold medal.
Born August 29, 1946 in Jamaica, New York, Beamon never knew his biological father. An article found on www.cjcj.org stated that “his mother died when he was an infant and his stepfather assumed responsibility for him. His stepfather did little in the way of parenting. He drank a lot, beat his wife, his mother and Bob, and finally ended up in prison.” The article stated that even at the age of 14, Beamon was in a gang and quickly advanced through its ranks by fighting and stealing. “He couldn’t even read. He joined a gang, worked his way up the gang hierarchy and got into a lot of fights. One of those gang fights spilled over into school… at Queens P.S. 40. A teacher intervened and was struck. Beamon was expelled from school and charged with assault and battery.”
Perhaps at that time, when the young Beamon was brought before a judge, his life began to shift for the better. While social workers recommended jail, Beamon fortunately found himself before a judge he said was “thoughtful, compassionate and obviously interested in helping kids.” According to the www.cjcj.org article, Beamon was sent to Manhattan’s 600 School, educational home for New York’s juvenile delinquents. “They didn’t give up on me,’” he was quoted as saying in an article appearing at www.aol.com/people. The school kept kids inside during the day, learning a better way of life from tough teachers. “But Beamon learned some things, made some good friends and was given the opportunity to grow. It was a place where he had time to learn that there was more to life than trouble,” the article read. In 600 School, Beamon said, “‘I got off
Born Robert Beamon on August 29, 1946 in Jamaica, NY; married to third wife Milana Walter; daughters: Tarneka and Deanna. Education: BA, Adelphi University, 1972.
Career: Gold medalist, long jump, 1968 Olympic games; national collegiate indoor long jump and triple jump champion; winner, National AAU outdoor long jump title, 1968; elected to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, 1983; president, Bob Beamon Communication Inc.; director of athletic development, Florida Atlantic University; chairman, Bob Beamon Golf & Tennis Classic; professional speaker for Fortune 500 companies, organizations and schools; advocate, Children’s Court Systems; author, The Man Who Could Fly, 1999.
Addresses: Bob Beamon Communication Inc., 20533 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 463, Aventura, FL 33180.
the corner and into the community center and school,’” he said. ‘“Going into Manhattan every day from Queens showed me a world that intrigued me.’”
Part of that world included the long, narrow stretch of asphalt that led to the long-jumping pit. Following his departure from the 600 School, Beamon set a Junior Olympics record in the long jump while in junior high school. By 16, “Beamon started setting city-wide records in track, culminating in a New York State record for the long jump. Now, he had a purpose, an opportunity, encouragement from others and an Olympic dream.”
After honing his long-jumping skills in New York with years of tireless training, Beamon qualified for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. There, he did something that permanently ingrained his name in sports history. During the long jump competition, Beamon annihilated the world record. Following his sprint, Beamon’s foot hit the toe board and what happened next stood as an Olympic record for 23 years. Running through the air above the sandpit, Beamon landed exactly 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches from his launch spot. The record, previously held by the United States’ Ralph Boston and then-U.S.S.R’s Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, was shattered by nearly two feet.
A Sports Illustrated article painted a dramatic picture of the event. “Back on that eerie October afternoon in 1968 when Bob Beamon set the greatest track and field record of all time, the air above Mexico City was charged by massing, rumbling thunderheads. Minutes after Beamon jumped 29 ft. 2 1/2 in., adding an incomprehensible 21 3/4 inches to the best our species had even done, the heavens deluged the Olympic Stadium with cold, hard rain.” Beamon had never cleared more than 27 feet in post-Olympic competition.
Beamon told Contemporary Black Biography that the leap itself and the distance he traveled was nearly a Zen-like result from years of training, focus, and harnessing the proper energy to elevate himself, both figuratively and literally, to a higher place. “We train ourselves to peak at a certain time,” he told CBB. “What I had been doing the last four, five, six years was training myself, getting myself prepared for that moment to stand in front of millions of people at the head of that runway and perform at my very best. I felt that after that, things were very different. To come back and duplicate those energies once you’ve done that, you have to find some new energies to do that. I felt that once I did, why do it again? I think I had to look for some other peak experiences that were very similar to winning the gold. I had to exert all of my energies and graduate from college. Competing then did not become a top priority.”
The same Sports Illustrated article described part of Beamon’s historic feat that night. “When he realized what he had done, Beamon sagged into a neural collapse that suggested to physiologists that he had somehow summoned the superhuman strength that ordinarily comes upon people only in disasters. His 29 ft. 2 1/2 in., or 8.90 meters, was far beyond any predicted human limits. The next man to jump after Beamon in Mexico was Ter-Ovanesyan….‘I was ashamed to jump,’ he said of Mexico City. ‘Bob had left us and gone on to a new world.’” That record would stand until broken by Mike Powell during the 1991 World Championships.
Beamon told CBB that in the days following the jump, the mood was almost surreal. “I was basically walking around in a daze,” he said. “Sort of in a state of disbelief, in a sense. But I had all of my marbles together to enjoy the adulation that came with being an Olympic athlete. I was pretty much enjoying every moment. Actually, I had to leave to go back to school. I had to get back to a class I was enrolled in, so it was pretty much only a day and a half later.”
Beamon’s post-Olympic experiences showcased personal success off the track. According to the www.cjcj.org story, Beamon flipped his Olympic success into a series of individual triumphs. The web site reported that Beamon earned a public relations degree from Adelphi University, coached college track and headed the Parks and Recreation programs in Miami-Dade, FL. He lived and worked in Spain and Mexico, all the while keeping active in the Olympic movement. Additionally, he co-organized the South Florida Inner City Games with Arnold Schwarzenegger and formed the Bob Beamon United Way Golf Classic. His memberships include the New York Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Olympic Hall of Fame, and he was ranked in ESPN’s list of Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century.
His thirst for success did not stop there. By 2001, Beamon, his third wife Milana and daughter Deanna, lived in Miami where he was president of Bob Beamon Communication Inc. “He is an exhibited artist, has designed and marketed a successful line of neckties and spends much of his time as an inspirational speaker and corporate spokesman,” the www.cjcj.org article stated. “He has developed his own motivational program, ‘The Champion in You,’ in which he described how ’champions are made by the things [they] accomplish and by the way [they] use [their] abilities in everyday life situations.’” He wrote an autobiography, The Man Who Could Fly, and later he became director of athletic development at Florida Atlantic University.
For Beamon, most of his civic work was youthcentered. His charity golf outing benefited youthrelated programs for the nonprofit United Way and was held annually in late October in southern Florida. According to information found at www.bobbeamon.com, the golf event helped to raise funds for the Bob Snow Scholarship. Establishing such charities to benefit children became a big charge for Beamon in the decades following the 1968 Olympic Games. Beamon told CBB that he did not forget what it was like growing up in the environment he did, so it was of great importance that he funnel as much back to childrenbased foundations as possible. “First of all, I was in a sheltered place where children were kept when I was in Harlem. I understand the feeling of being alone and not being with your family. The second part is, we have just as much opportunity as anyone else. If you use your common sense to be motivated to be around positive people, that will make a difference in your life. With the scholarship fund, we hope to have an impact on kids that will take advantage of the scholarship, pursue a career goal and have a real good life.”
Beamon appeared to having a good life by 2001. An accomplished athlete, degreed and educated, a philanthropist, artist and motivational speaker, he used his wide-ranging talents and abilities. As a tough kid in the streets who robbed and fought, Beamon found himself having to answer tough questions. And when he began focusing on the long jump, he did that so intently, he ended up jumping farther than anyone of his time, holding the world record for more than two decades. And like his last name partly suggests, he was “beaming” with a bright sense of pride and overwhelming desire to assist and motivate nearly everyone in his path. But for the former New Yorker, children were the top priority, especially when it came to advice. “Staying focused and motivated are the keys to any situation,” he told CBB.
The fund-raisers and foundations have served the youth community with what Beamon referred to as “backup systems.” In the article appearing at www.cjc.org, Beamon stressed the importance of helping kids. “‘The backup systems, extended family, church, neighbors, are simply not there like they used to be,’” he said. “Beamon also observed that while today’s children are being exposed to more dangers, parents are becoming less watchful over, and less involved with, their own kids. Families are more fragmented and disconnected,” the article stated. “‘We need to get out of denial and reach out to these kids,’” Beamon was quoted as saying. “They need to understand what can happen to them and what is in store for them in the penal system. We must teach them that there is a better, more interesting world out there.’”
Sports Illustrated, September 9, 1991, page 14
Additional information for this profile was obtained from personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography.