Charles Hartley, a free-lance writer based in New Jersey, has written more than a thousand published sports articles. He earned Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Journalism. In addition, he was awarded his Bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University where he majored in English and Communications
The year was 1968. The place was Mexico City. The event was the Olympics long jump.
American Bob Beamon lifted off and flew through the air – and flew, and flew, and flew. As soon as his feet hit the sand, officials had to use a special manual measuring tape. It took them more than 10 minutes to calculate the distance.
He had jumped 29 feet 2 and one-quarter inches – nearly two feet further than any long jumper ever had. Jumping that much further than anyone was not even an idea – except that one time
Overcome with shock and emotion, Beamon fell to the ground and had a seizure. Olympic historians labeled this feat the greatest in the history of the Games.
Five years later at the Belmont Stakes a horse named Secretariat – think Michael Phelps — beat the field by 31 lengths and the track record by two and three-fifths of a second. “That is a record that will stand forever,” a broadcaster said at the time.
Forty-three years later at this month’s Olympics, Katie Ledecky broke her own world record in the 800 meter freestyle by two seconds in a time of 8 minutes and four seconds. She finished 12 seconds ahead of the second place swimmer – yes, 12 seconds, an extreme rarity in swimming and a sign of utter and almost freaky superiority.
This swim for the ages by Ledecky is comparable to Beamon’s and Secretariat’s as one of the most astounding and dominant single sports.
What she did was amazing, memorable, and otherworldly. Like those who saw Beamon make that spellbinding jump and Secretariat annihilate the field, many of us will remember watching Ledecky touch the wall in the 800 freestyle 12 lengths ahead. You almost never see that in world-class swimming events.
There she was, by herself, done with the race, for a long, long time before the second place finisher was done.
Beamon was all by himself that day he jumped to the moon. Secretariat was alone in his greatness at the Belmont sprinting into the stratosphere. And Ledecky was on that wall in a swimming universe only she has been.
There were other marvelous swimming achievements at this month’s Games. Ryan’s Murphy’s world record in the 100 meter backstroke was incredible. Adam Peaty’s 100 meter breaststroke time of 56.59 shocked the swimming world. Who will ever be able to break that except him? Maybe no one.
As great as these and other swimming achievements were, Ledecky’s 800 freestyle annihilation of the field stands above all other Olympic swims. It belongs in the same conversation as Beamon’s and Secretariat’s as the greatest single-event sporting achievement ever.
This was written by and courtesy of Charles Hartley.