Ralph Boston, the bridge athlete between Jesse Owens and Bob Beamon, dies | Sports

The athlete Ralph Boston, in 1960.
The athlete Ralph Boston, in 1960.ullstein bild Dtl. (ullstein picture via Getty Images)

“Jumpers of the world, get up and know his name, because Ralph Boston has died!” cries Carl Lewis, and with him, with one of the greatest in the history of athletics, the fans and the old athletes cry, those who They wanted to be like him, because everyone was moved by Ralph Boston, an American long jumper who died on Sunday, a few days before his 84th birthday. “He was my idol as a child and the person who influenced me the most. I already miss his voice and his support. He changed the sport, ”added Lewis, a four-time Olympic champion in length, never a world record holder, on the networks.

Between two giants, Jesse Owens and Bob Beamon, flew Ralph Boston, who on August 12, 1960, shortly before winning gold at the Rome Games, broke the world record that had been 25 years old by eight centimeters, a year earlier. From leaving Hitler speechless and raging in his Berlin Olympic stadium, Owens had led 8.13m.

Boston was the youngest of 10 children, the son of a black day laborer from Laurel, Mississippi, in the deep South, where the law and death were dictated by the Ku Klux Klan. When he returned with the gold from Rome he returned to a city where he could only enter restaurants, buses and segregated services, and drink water from black-only fountains. “He was a citizen of the world, but not a citizen of Mississippi,” said Boston then, who, almost as a child, took his father’s farm implements and tools and built an athletics track in a field near his home, with high jump included, bamboo canes and sawdust for landing.

Four years after Rome, in Tokyo 64, Boston was the silver medalist, beaten by four centimeters (8.03m versus 8.07m) by the Welshman Lynn Davies, who more than his talent thanked the gods for the cold , the rain and the wind that he liked so much, and to Boston himself for explaining that if he saw the stadium flags that suddenly fell limp, that meant that the wind had stopped blowing inside the stadium. “That’s what I saw and that’s what I thought,” said Davies, the adored Welshman, later. “And I saw them fall, and I jumped.”

In the Tokyo final, the Spanish Luis Felipe, Pipe, Areta, who, going through the same cold and soaking just as well, and sharing his cigarette pack with the Armenian Igor Ter Ovanesian, bronze medalist, finished sixth. “We had met on a few occasions, Rome 60, Tokyo 64, Mexico 68 (pre-Olympic 66), Viareggio 67 (USA-Italy-Spain), meetings in 65 (Madrid, Barcelona) and others in Helsinki, Oslo…”, recalls Areta, who is not far from Lewis in his love and admiration for the North American. “When in Rome 60 I was an 18-year-old kid and I found myself in the middle of the athletic Olympus together with myths like Connolly, Da Silva, Bragg. I arrived on the first day of training and Boston was in the jumping pit, with Bo Roberson, a kind of ebony sculpture who finished second, accompanied by all the press, after 35 years he had just beaten Owens’ mythical record. Thanks to his sympathy and closeness, all the shameful complexes were removed from me. Boston was a charming person, humble, joking, playful, cheerful and always in a good mood.”

In 1965, Boston competed in Madrid, on the Vallehermoso dirt track, jumping 8.28 meters, and left the kids of that time speechless and with their memories enriched forever – “fervent admirers of the exuberant elegance of their jump” , says Manolo Carballo, Olympic sprinter in Munich 72, one of the youngsters gaping at the three and a half steps in the air, almost two meters high, from Boston, running in a vacuum–, and shortly after, on Montjuïc, in Barcelona, ​​which was opening a rubber track, made a null of 8.56 meters, which would have made him the first athlete to exceed the 28-foot barrier, as reflected in its world record progression book by the international federation ( WA).

After beating the world record five more times, sharing the world leadership with the Armenian Igor Ter Ovanesian, Boston arrived at the Mexico 68 Games with a world record of 8.35m, and the conviction that, despite this, they would not win gold. “Then, in Mexico,” Areta continues to recall, “Boston told me that he was fine, but that Bob Beamon, an almost unknown promise at the time, could jump nine meters… And so it was.” When Beamon was hesitating in the hallway before his first jump in the final, because everyone was nulling and the weather was bad, Boston encouraged him, “Go ahead, do a good jump!” Beamon reached 8.90 meters with the jump that went around the world and defined as nothing, and like Fosbury’s high jump, the miracles of the 1968 Games. It took hours to measure it because the jump had exceeded the capacity of the modern optical device and had to resort to the old steel tape measure. And when 8.90 meters was announced, Beamon, who didn’t understand metric measurements, went to hug Boston, who explained, “Bob, you’ve jumped 29 feet.” Until then, no athlete had even been able to jump 28 feet… He had broken the record of his friend’s by 55 centimeters. Beamon was almost speechless, but he was able to tell Boston, “Ralph, I know you’re going to crush me now.” But Boston told him, “no, no, I will never be able to jump that in my life… This is the end for me.” Boston (8.16m) was third, also surpassed by East German Klaus Beer (8.19m).

Only 23 years later, at the 1991 World Cup in Tokyo, someone jumped more than Beamon: Mike Powell, 8.95m. Since 1935, Owens’ record, and 2023, only five athletes have been able to claim to have been long jump world record holders. Three are still alive, Ter Ovanesian (who held the record, 8.31m, between June 1962 and September 1964), Beamon and Powell.

One of the few times that the name of Ralph Boston appeared in the newspapers again was in 1972, when a brief agency note published in the New York Times announced that thieves had broken into the athlete’s home in Knoxville, Tennessee, and had taken her color television, her record player, and her three Olympic medals, gold, silver, and bronze.

“In 2018 I was able to talk to him unexpectedly,” Areta says, “when Beamon, who was attending the 1st Donosti Film and Athletics Festival, when I asked him about him, he took out his cell phone, dialed, spoke for a moment, and handed it to me. On the other side was Boston itself. Full of mutual joy we talked, not much, among other things because of the difficulty of the language, but intensely moved…”.

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