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TRIPLE THREAT : For Conley, Banks and Other Hopefuls, the Record Is a Long Way Out There

Times Staff Writer

There has always been a certain mystique about Bob Beamon’s world-record long jump of 29 feet 2 1/2 inches.

It was a stupendous achievement, considering that the world record was 27-5 at the time and that Beamon simply flew past the 28-foot barrier into another dimension.

It was also accomplished on a world stage, the 1968 Olympic Games at Mexico City.

Seven years later, however, there was another record set in the thin air of Mexico City that, in context, rivals Beamon’s achievement.

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Joao Oliveira of Brazil broke the world record in the triple jump by 17 inches with an astonishing leap of 58 feet 8 1/2 inches.

No one since has had a legal jump over 58 feet, and the second-best mark is more than a foot short of Oliveira’s record. That would be the 57-7 3/4 efforts by Britain’s Keith Connor in 1982 and Cuba’s Lazaro Betancourt this year.

Willie Banks, the former UCLA star, is No. 4 on the list with a jump of 57-7 1/2.

Mike Conley of Arkansas, who had a wind-aided jump of 58-1 3/4 at the recent NCAA meet in Austin, Tex., put Oliveira’s record in perspective when he said: “It’s just as awesome as Beamon’s record.”

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Perhaps it is. Carl Lewis with a best long jump of 28-10 is only 4 inches away from Beamon’s record. Conley, Banks and other triple jumpers have more ground to make up.

Conley is the best combination triple/long jumper in the world. He is also a proven sprinter.

In an era when many track athletes are selective as to when they will compete, avoiding multiple events, Conley takes a Spartan-like approach to the sport.

In leading Arkansas to the NCAA championship, he won the long jump at 27-2 and the triple jump at 58-1 3/4, finished second in the 200 meters at 20.12 seconds, and ran a leg on his team’s 400-meter relay.

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With trials in all of those events, Conley went through eight rounds of competition in 90-degree heat at Austin.

Moreover, he is the first collegian ever to repeat as a long- and triple-jump winner in the NCAA outdoor meet. He also won both jumps last March in the NCAA indoor championships.

Conley will be part of a world-class triple-jump field that includes Banks and Olympic gold medalist Al Joyner in Saturday’s ARCO-Coliseum meet. He’ll also run the 200. Just two events. A day at the beach for Conley.

His immediate goal is to break Banks’ American record set in 1981. Conley has a best legal jump of 57-6 1/2 that he recorded in the NCAA meet.

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“I hope to get the record before the year is out,” Conley said. “I’m not pushing for it, though. It will happen in the heat of competition.”

He also doesn’t rule out the possibility that Oliveira’s record can be broken, perhaps at sea-level.

“I don’t know when it will happen,” he said. “If it does, it will happen when anyone least expects it.”

Conley said he certainly didn’t expect to jump 58-1 3/4 at the NCAA meet, the third-best mark ever under any conditions.

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“Actually, I didn’t think it was that good of a jump,” he said. “My technique wasn’t good. I was surprised I went that far.”

Conley is one of the few athletes who excels as a long- and triple-jumper. Oliveira was proficient at both with a personal best of 27-5 in the long jump, compared to Conley’s 27-4.

“The events aren’t compatible,” Conley said. “For one thing, you use a different takeoff leg, and the arm and hand movements aren’t the same. The events are only similar when you’re running through the board.”

Conley reasons that an athlete can’t be a great long jumper without considerable speed.

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“But a person with great technique can get by in the triple jump,” he added. “Willie Banks is not that fast, but he still has the American record.”

Banks agreed, saying, “If Conley were a turtle, I’d be the sand he walks on. He has a 20.12 time in the 200 and I’m in the high 21s. Nevertheless, we’re jumping about the same distances and that’s because I have a little better technique than he has.”

Banks is an enthusiastic competitor who orchestrates crowds to clap for him and other competitors. Nobody works a stadium better.

He has returned to form this season and had a wind-aided leap of 57-7 last month in Brazil. He was bothered by a leg injury last year and finished a disappointing sixth in the Olympic Games with a jump of 54-11 1/2.

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Banks said that he and Conley have contrasting styles.

“Conley uses a lot of speed on the board. He has what they call a skipping stone style. He is really quick with a low arc on his jumps. Whereas, you’ll see me with a little more parabola on my jumps.

“I’m trying to get out as high and far as possible. I’m trying to long jump on each phase of the triple jump. As a matter of fact, that’s what the Russians and Poles are doing. They’ve forgotten about speed.

“This is supposed to be a triple jump and people have been sprinting through it. But it’s not a sprint. It’s a jump and we have to learn how to jump three times. When Russia’s Oleg Protsenko jumped 57-10 1/2 (a wind-aided mark) in Brazil, he was stopping and jumping each time. Just springing off and springing off. It was incredible.”

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Banks is aware that if Conley improves as a technician in the event, he could move into a class by himself, given his natural speed. But Willie isn’t inclined to impart any tips to his competitor.

“I believe that 60 feet is well within our range and it’s possible that someone will do it this summer, if all conditions are right,” Banks said. “My whole dream in life is to jump 60 feet. Once I do that, I can quit.”

Banks, an aspiring lawyer, is a persevering sort.

“I’ve tried for three Olympics and three times I’ve failed to win a gold medal,” he said. “I’ve tried to pass the bar examination three times and I’ve failed, but I’ve gotten closer each time.

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“I’ll just get on the horse again and ride. If I quit now, I’d let people down who believe in me.”

Conley, too, is an optimist. He was heavily favored to win the triple jump at the Summer Olympics but finished second, behind Joyner.

Instead of brooding, he is celebrating his silver medal even to the extent of wearing silver shoes in competition.

“People are hung up on the gold and overlook the silver,” Conley said. “Ask anyone who is knowledgeable in track and field and they probably couldn’t name the silver medalists in the last Olympics.

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“If I told someone who didn’t know me that I had won a silver medal, they would be astonished. But people who know me aren’t as enthused. They just say, ‘You’ll get it (gold medal) next time.’ ”

A gold medal is one thing. Oliveira’s record is another. It’s still the farthest outpost in the land of track and field.

ALL-TIME TRIPLE JUMP LIST

JUMPER COUNTRY DISTANCE YEAR Joao de Oliveira Brazil 58-8 1/2 1975 Keith Conner Britain 57-7 3/4 1982 Lazaro Betancourt Cuba 57-7 3/4 1985 Willie Banks United States 57-7 1/2 1981 V. Grishchenkov Soviet Union 57-7 1983 Mike Conley United States 57-6 1/2 1985 A. Beskrovniy Soviet Union 57-6 1983 O. Protsenko Soviet Union 57-5 3/4 1984 A. Yakovlyev Soviet Union 57-5 1984 Z. Hoffman Poland 57-4 1985 G. Valyukevich Soviet Union 57-3 3/4 1984

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