The long jump was part of the first Olympics in ancient Greece and also was featured in the first modern games in 1896. Although the long jump has changed substantially over the past few thousand years, it still is included in track and field events on the local, regional, national and international levels.
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The long jump was part of the pentathlon event in the Olympics in ancient Greece, circa 708 B.C., according to Olympic.org. The other events in the pentathlon were wrestling, discus and javelin throwing, and running. Competitors used jump weights called halteres that were made from stone or lead and shaped like telephone receivers. Long jumpers held the haltere in front of themselves as they jumped into the air, then threw it behind them as they descended. Halteres were thought to help jumpers achieve longer distances.
Jumping events including the long jump were held throughout ancient Greece and Europe in festivals, fairs and the Pythian, Istmian and Nemean games, according to Olympic.org. During the late 1800s in Europe and the United States, pentathlon-like sporting events also included long jumps, as did the first modern Olympics in 1896, although haltere weights were eliminated. The long jump has been included in all of the games since then, although women did not compete until the 1928 games in Amsterdam, Holland. In 1912, the International Association of Athletics Federations was created to govern the long jump and other track and field sports, and the men’s long jump and other track and field events were standardized in 1932.
The United States and Europe have dominated the men’s Olympic long jump throughout modern history. The most well-known of the American long jumpers included Jesse Owens, who took the gold in Berlin in 1936. At the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, Carl Lewis burst onto the Olympic scene, taking the gold in the long jump. He held the gold in the long jump for the next three Olympics, in 1988, 1992 and 1996. The Soviet Union and East Germany were the top countries in the women’s long jump Olympic events until Jackie Joyner-Kersee took the gold in 1988.
Today, many countries in Africa and Asia continue to dominate the Olympic long jump events for both men and women, Olympic.org says. More than 62 countries competed in track and field event finals during the 2008 games in Beijing, China. As of the 2008 games, the Olympic world record for the long jump was 8.95 meters, or 29 feet 8 ¼ inches, for men, and 7.52 meters, or 24 feet 8 ¼ inches, for women. Lighter and better shoes as well as advanced long-jump techniques have developed over the centuries, giving modern athletes a competitive edge over their predecessors.