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Quantum leap still rankles with Davies, 50 years on

LYNN The Leap, they called him back in the day.

Lynn Davies became the first British athlete to hold each of the Olympic, European and Commonwealth titles in long jump. He believes that feat can be emulated by Greg Rutherford. Picture: PA
Lynn Davies became the first British athlete to hold each of the Olympic, European and Commonwealth titles in long jump. He believes that feat can be emulated by Greg Rutherford. Picture: PA

This year is the 50th anniversary of his victory in the Olympic long jump, yet still only three British athletes have leapt further than 1964 Olympic gold medallist Lynn Davies.

The Welshman was first British athlete to hold Olympic, European and Commonwealth titles concurrently, yet perhaps the most important distance for him was not his UK record of 8.23 metres, but the 25 miles he travelled from the village of Nant-y-moel, where his father was a coal miner, to Cardiff.

"It was for the Empire Games - I'd never even seen a running track before," recalled Davies yesterday. "I hadn't seen athletics until those Games in Cardiff."

It is a potent example of legacy from the man who is now president of UK Athletics. "My dad worked underground as I grew up. I played football and rugby," he said.

"My sporting heroes were Ken Jones, Stanley Matthews and Cliff Morgan. But then I went to the 1958 Games - my first spark of inspiration for athletics. I only did athletics one day a year: sports day at grammar school on the local rugby pitch. I was a schoolboy just coming up 16 and had never seen anything like it. There were three world records. Brilliant.

"Back in Nant-y-moel for the next three weeks we tried what we'd seen in Cardiff. But it quickly waned. There was no athletics club, no coaches to show us what to do. So for the next three years I went back to rugby and football. It was a chance meeting with Ron Pickering at a county schools championships that got me going.

"The Games sparked my interest but there was no follow up. Athletics needs facilities, but also coaching and teaching expertise."

The biggest post-2012 and 2014 challenge for athletics, he says, is to provide foundation level coaching. "Clubs can't cope. We need more administrators, but particularly more coaches. You get a bunch of 20 new kids at a club and suddenly you're not coaching any more. All you're doing is organising activity, like a PE teacher. You need a club with coaches to guide you, especially for technical events."

Twelve days ago, 2012 Olympic champion Greg Rutherford improved his own UK best from 8.35m (his winning distance in London) to 8.51m. It is the world best this year and equal 19th all-time.

Davies believes Rutherford can now go on to match him by holding Olympic, European and Commonwealth titles simultaneously. "I pride myself on being first to do that and it would be nice if Greg could repeat it," he said.

"But I was surprised, for two reasons. In London, Greg recognised an opportunity, as I did in Tokyo all these years ago. He saw the best jumpers in the world all way down on their best performance and realised: 'I can jump 8.30. I can win it today'. But since then he's struggled to achieve commercial income, but more importantly he struggled with quite serious injury. He was away down on his form last year and didn't make the world final in Moscow, then withdrew from Glasgow earlier this year.

"I thought London might be the last we'd see of Greg in terms of world-class performances. So when I heard he'd done 8.51 it was astonishing. I take my hat off and salute him. If he can reproduce that form he's certain to win in Glasgow, and can also win the European title in Zurich."

Davies was a surprise winner, third favourite behind Ralph Boston and Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, in Tokyo in 1964. He credits the foul weather. "You'd not have gone out and done a training session - it was so bad. Gusting winds, rain, and puddles all down the runway.

"But it's not the man who can jump furthest. It's the man who can jump furthest in those conditions. It changed the mind set. I'd jumped eight metres in rain and wind before and thought that might have a chance. Like Greg I saw an opportunity and seized it."

When the headwind dropped, he jumped a UK record 8.07m.

Four years later, in Mexico, he was second best in the world with every chance of retaining his title. Until Bob Beamon jumped 21¾ inches further than the world record.

"We knew he was capable of something extraordinary, but doubted he had the discipline to control his run-up," said Davies. "He was all over the place. We all thought he'd get no-jumps, but he just hit it smack on. The margin of improvement was unprecedented."

Ter-Ovanesyan later said that, compared to Beamon, "we are as children". A stunned Davies, who had "only come to win gold", finished in ninth place in the standings. He said Beamon had "destroyed the event".

People suggested Davies was a poor sport. "But unless you have that uncompromising positive attitude, I felt you were not going to win. I still jumped, but my heart was not in it. It was not possible to win any more," he added.

He likened the experience to having to match a hole-in-one in a sudden-death play-off.

Yet he discounts the suggestion that the wind was over the limit for Beamon. "It was just a combination of his remarkable ability and physical qualities: ideal for long jump - very quick, very tall, long-legged, incredible spring and just hitting the board right. The perfect jump by the perfect specimen."

Davies won Empire gold in 1966 and defended successfully in Edinburgh in 1970, but his attempt to retain European gold in 1969 failed when Ter-Ovanesyan got his revenge.

A pre-graduate, Davies spent four years as technical director of the sport in Canada and was a lecturer at what is now Cardiff Metropolitan University. He retired in 2007. He was also manager of Olympic teams in Moscow and Los Anglees.

He still runs most days. He keeps up with old adversaries and has spent time with Boston, Beamon and Ter-Ovanesyan. "It's been great to meet up and reminisce all these years later."

He has done coaching conferences with Mike Powell, who wrote out Beamon's mark in a Tokyo duel with Carl Lewis in 1991, the same city as Davies took his Olympic title.

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