By: Maxmillian Robinson
A meeting between great minds and great conversations took place Thursday, February 4, as Ron Lee ’67, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, interviewed Bob Beamon ’72, ’00 (Hon.), Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record Holder, about his record-shattering long jump, the Black Power Movement and his remembrances of Adelphi. The event, titled “A Giant Leap in a Time of Struggle: A Discussion with Olympic Gold Medalist Bob Beamon,” was sponsored by Adelphi Athletics as part of its 19th Annual Black History Month Celebration in conjunction with Great Minds, Great Conversations.
Beamon shocked the world during the 1968 Olympic games held in Mexico City, when at 22, he completed the world's best long jump, 29 feet 2 ½ inches. At the time, it was one of the greatest feats and the record and the mark still stands to this day.
Beamon, an African American, had to compete for many things throughout his life outside of the sport he loved. In some cases, jeopardizing his career in the process. During the two-hour Zoom event, the explained his journey in numerous ways.
“Going to Jamaica High School in Queens [New York] was a great awakening,” Beamon said. “I lived in a Black community all my life but I eventually was faced in a multicultural society. However, I was able to blend.”
He had early success in sports as well.
“As far as it goes for athletics, I was starting to understand what they were about,” Beamon said. “Coach Ellis [Larry Ellis, a renowned track coach] and Hilty Shapiro believed I could become a professional basketball player. I was an All-City player in basketball, an All-American in track and field, also setting city records in events [long jump 25’6” and triple jump 50 ft].”
Beamon became proficient in both events, the triple jump and long jump; however, he chose the long jump instead, despite excelling more with triple jump at the time.
Beamon had to fight for a spot to qualify on the Olympic roster in 1968. However, he was challenged with a bigger problem off the track.
“One of the worst experiences that happened was that the entire country was getting ready to burn,” Beamon said. “Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, same as Robert Kennedy, and the Vietnam War occurred.”
Beamon’s integrity faced a challenge before the Olympics, when he and 10 other Black track and field athletes decided to protest the collegiate event held at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah. It was a relay meet between BYU and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), where Beamon had received a track and field scholarship. BYU had religious laws that were seen as unfair towards minorities. If any athlete chose to sit out during the event, their scholarship would be revoked.
“We would lose our scholarship if we didn’t go but we stayed with our decision,” Beamon said. “Us 11 lost our scholarships. However, I competed individually from the school on a travel team to showcase my skills and I did well.”
Beamon remained confident heading into the Olympic Trials to compete for a roster spot.
“During preparation, I felt I was the best,” Beamon said. “However, I was realistic about the competition on our team [Ralph Boston, another Olympic gold medalist]. Russia had another jumper who won before as well and came to compete.”
Ralph Boston is a three-time Olympic champion and was the first long jumper ever to break the long jump mark of 27 feet. “Without Boston, I wouldn't have won the gold. He was a motivator,” Beamon said. “One of the experiences I had was when Boston beat me in the Pan American games. The biggest piece of advice he gave was to always make your first jump, your best jump, so others would notice.”
Beamon would use the advice from Boston while competing for gold at the event held in Mexico City.
The rest was history…
“I leaped and it was amazing,” Beamon said. “I looked at my watch and thought I was flying. The crowd went crazy. The jump was beyond measurable.”
After the events ended, players went to receive their medals. Beamon was reminded of an unfortunate time of his life.
“When [Tommy Smith] and [John Carlos] won gold and silver in the same event, both players raised their fists, exclaiming Black power,” Beamon said. “I didn’t know about it beforehand, but afterwards, all hell broke loose.”
Those players were kicked off of the team and sent home, like Beamon when he protested against the BYU games.
“Now they were perceived as bad guys,” he said. “That was a warning sign for the rest of us but they took the fall. We had to stay focused.”
Beamon, who began his athletic career at UTEP, embarked on a great deal of success following being expelled for refusing to compete at BYU.
With a gold medal in hand, Beamon had everything going for him already. The Phoenix Suns selected him in the 15th round of the 1969 NBA draft. While he never suited up for the Suns, it's an incredible accomplishment, nonetheless.
“I was great at track, but basketball was my first true love,” Beamon said. “Sports have been good to me.”
What made him decide to go back to school and choose Adelphi?
“Members from my inner circle told me I should graduate college,” Beamon said. “After consideration, I was told about this university [Adelphi], how I was ambitious to keep in shape and play basketball again. Mike Gordon [coach], gave me an opportunity and I played there for one semester.”
He graduated in 1972 with a degree in sociology.
Beamon is in the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, New York Track & Field Hall of Fame, and ESPN’s top 100 athletes among many other sports accolades. His world-record jump was named by “Sports Illustrated” magazine as one of the five greatest sports moments of the 20th century. Today he is on the Jessie Owens Foundation Board of Directors and is an ambassador for Special Olympics. He is also an exhibited artist, designing and marketing a successful line of neckties and scarves and a motivational speaker.
Beamon sees promise in the next generation.
“We’re on our way to getting back to real life in the right way,” Beamon said. “Adelphi students need to take notice and start creating new innovative things that we [the older generation] never had before.”
When asked about what Adelphi students should do moving forward, Beamon kept it classy.
“Stay in school, and be cool,” he said.