Bob Beamon is synonymous with one of the greatest track and field performances in history, the 29-foot, 2.5-inch world record in the long jump he set at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics 55 years ago today, a mark which eclipsed the former record by almost two feet and still stands as the Olympic record.
But few realize that Beamon almost sacrificed that opportunity standing up for civil rights.
In 1968, the University of Texas at El Paso was gathering steam as legitimate national championship contender. The engine powering that team was Beamon, a junior long jumper out of Queens, New York. He was undefeated on the year and had set the world indoor record.
But the year was also one of the most tumultuous in American history.
The Vietnam War was raging, there were hardening class differences, severe economic problems and an increasingly impatient civil rights movement that gave rise to combative and angry black power advocates. Harry Edwards launched the Olympic Project For Human Rights, which sought reforms through the organization of a potential boycott of the Olympics.
Beamon and the UTEP track team were able to withstand the outside pressure until April 4, 1968. While the team was in Austin preparing to compete at the Texas Relays, news spread that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Mississippi.
Four days later, Beamon and 10 of his Black teammates decided to boycott a tri-meet against BYU and Utah State over the racist teachings of the Mormon Church. They all had they scholarships revoked.
This is the story of how the man who could fly was nearly grounded for standing against racism.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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