David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Astounding feats just waiting to be eclipsed

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When Bob Beamon soared through the thin Mexico City air 45 years ago he sent the long jump world record to unimagined lengths.

With a single leap, helped by altitude and a tail wind just inside the legal limit, the beanpole 22-year-old bettered the old mark by a whopping 55cm, taking it to 8.90m. It made a mockery of previous world records, achieved in tiny increments.

It took almost 23 years to be broken, by another American Mike Powell, who got it to 8.95m at the world championships in Tokyo in 1991. That remains the world standard.

The term Beamonesque was the American equivalent of cricket lovers' Bradmanesque, after the phenomenal numbers put up by Australia's greatest sportsperson.

Beamon, incidentally, never again went past even 8.22m. He had one perfect moment.

The point is, his mark did finally get toppled.

Records in sport are made to be broken. The pursuit of that is one element which drives athletes and provides a substantial fascination for those who follow them.

Some are more gettable than others. Jack Nicklaus has 18 golf majors. The next best player is four back and while you'd be a mug to write off Tiger Woods' chances of eclipsing the Golden Bear, the odds lengthen a notch with each passing major miss.

Roger Federer has 17 Grand Slam singles crowns. Next best among active players is Rafael Nadal on 11, then Novak Djokovic back on six. Will Federer be caught? One day he probably will.

What about St George's 11 straight league premierships from 1956? Doubt it.

It takes a great leap of faith to imagine anyone, over a lengthy career, getting near Bradman's 99.94 test average. Or toppling legendary English opener Jack Hobbs' staggering 199 first-class centuries.

That, of course, was in the days before restrictive central contracts keep England's best away from the county circuit.

For comparison, Bradman made 117 first-class tons, averaging 95.14. Sachin Tendulkar turned 40 this week. He can bat a bit and has made 81.

Which brings us to the Jamaican hurricane Chris Gayle.

His unbeaten 175 off 66 balls for Royal Challengers Bangalore this week was stunning. Okay, some of the Pune Warriors bowling was pie throwing, but not all of it. Gayle's reach, combined with his sledgehammer bat and his strength, makes him a special force in the shortest game.

On February 17, 2005, the first T20 international was played at Eden Park. What batting sides might be capable of scoring was just guesswork, but the idea of a batsman making a century on his own was a stretch.

Ricky Ponting made 98 off 55 balls that night, without resorting to cow corner heaves. That opened eyes to what might be attainable. There have been 26 hundreds in the IPL alone.

Then on April 19, 2008, Brendon McCullum gave the Indian Premier League a kick start of which even the most optimistic of their spruikers could not have imagined. He clobbered 158 not out off 73 balls for Kolkata Knight Riders against Bangalore and the IPL hasn't looked back.

Usain Bolt hurtles down the 100m track at never-before-seen speed. How low might he, or someone in the next generation of super athletes, take the mark now standing at 9.58 seconds?

Is it conceivable that one day an athlete will cover the distance in, say, seven seconds? We mightn't be around to see it, but don't discount it.

And someone will topple Gayle. It might even be cricket's coolest cat himself.

But as you stop and ponder whether it's possible, remember Beamon. Most records fall eventually, and that's no bad thing at all.

- NZ Herald

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