Willie Banks brought the world triple-jump record to the United States for the first time in 74 years tonight with an exceptional effort of 58 feet 11 1/2 inches at the U.S. Track and Field Championships.
On his second try, Banks added three inches to the world mark set 10 years ago in the high altitude of Mexico City by Joao de Oliveira of Brazil.
Until tonight, nobody else had achieved a 58-foot jump without an aiding wind. Yet, after Banks' winning leap, Mike Conley became the third man in 58-foot territory with a legal 58-1 1/4. Charlie Simpkins, 57-5 3/4, and Olympic champion Al Joyner, 57-3 1/2, rounded out the greatest triple-jump competition of all time.
Banks, who plays to the crowd anyway, waved his fist in glee when he came out of the pit. Then, when the world record was announced, he bounded around the grass infield, embraced 800 runner Louise Romo -- who had just finished her race -- and finally took a triumphant victory lap.
Banks' record jump first was measured as 59- 1/4, but after a steel tape was stretched for confirmation purposes, it was reduced by three-quarters of an inch. The following wind of 3.15 mph was well below the 4.47 permitted for record purposes.
The last U.S. competitor to hold the world mark in the event was Dan Ahearn, who managed 50-11 on May 30, 1911.
The record effort completed an amazing comeback for Banks, a 29-year-old law school graduate from Santa Monica, Calif., who has failed the bar exam three times. Long the best U.S. triple jumper, he was a disappointing sixth in the Olympic Games at 54-11 1/2. Banks recouped a bit in Europe last summer, leaping 57- 3/4, then came back strong this spring and last week improved his U.S. record to 57-11 3/4 in Los Angeles.
"Tonight, after my first jump (57 feet), I told my friend Lee Balkin that the next jump would be a world record," Banks said. "I knew it was there. When I took my first step in my run, I knew it was going to be a world record.
"On my first run, I was behind the board and I did 57 feet, not even jumping. I was a little too nervous. But the second time, I was watching Louise run and I was excited for her, and I was feeling good, and the excitement of it all catapulted me down the runway.
"I knew it was a big jump and I didn't worry about a foul -- I rarely foul any more. Afterward, the judge said, 'You couldn't put a piece of paper between the board and the clay,' but that's the way it has to be."
Banks said the possibility of a world record kept him going after his failure to earn a gold medal last summer.
"This is the greatest moment in my life," he said. "I missed the gold medal, which was my one goal in life, and it wasn't until I decided to go for the world record that I could look myself in the mirror.
"Now I think I can do 60 feet. I'm greedy. And now that I've done the world record at sea level -- I said I'd do it at sea level or not at all -- I can go to altitude and put it out so far I'll hold it for 10 years like Joao Oliveira."
Mexico City, where Bob Beamon set his long-jump record of 29-2 1/2 in 1968, is 7,550 feet above sea level; Indianapolis is approximately 700 feet. The thin air at altitude reduces resistance considerably for horizontal jumpers.
Banks was ranked sixth in the world, Conley first. Conley, who won the NCAA championship two weeks ago with a wind-aided 58-1 1/2, earlier tonight captured the long jump in Carl Lewis' absence with a wind-aided leap of exactly 28 feet.
That was an outstanding event, too, as Jason Grimes took the lead on his fourth jump of 27-10 3/4. Conley rebounded to beat him in the next round and said, "It was a great competition. Twenty-eight feet is another barrier for me, even if it was windy. In Austin, 58 feet was a barrier. Legal or illegal, they're great jumps for me."
Grimes leaped a legal 27-8 on his final jump, which also was his swan song. He will sign with the Detroit Lions in the next few weeks.
Banks' achievement overshadowed some excellent competition on the final night of the 110th U.S. Championships.
Doug Padilla held off Sydney Maree down the stretch to set a meet record of 13:16.42 in the 5,000 meters, not long after Henry Marsh lowered the meet standard to 8:18.35 in winning the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the seventh time.
Andre Phillips gave the absent Edwin Moses a lot to think about with an outstanding time of 47.67 in the 400-meter hurdles. Phillips, a disappointing fourth in the U.S. Olympic Trials, left Olympic silver medalist Danny Harris almost 10 meters in arrears.
"My left hamstring was strained a month ago and it really hasn't healed up completely," Phillips said. "But I thought I had a fast race in me after that 48.3 last week."
Johnny Gray overtook pace-setting Earl Jones in the last 20 meters to take the 800 in 1:44.01. John Marshall took second over Jones, who covered the first 200 in 23.2 and the 400 in 48.4 before that grueling pace caught up with him.
"Earl's fast pace surprised me a little," Gray said. "I knew if I could keep in contact that he would come back to me. I could have gone faster. I was just cruising into the tape."
Mark Rowe surged in the last 20 meters to retain his 400-meter title in 44.87. He edged Darrell Robinson, with NCAA champion Roddie Haley third.
Joe Dial won the pole vault at 18-9 1/2. Mike Tully took second from Billy Olson on fewer misses as each cleared 18-5 1/4.
The 1,500 was a tactical race designed for kickers and Jim Spivey won it in 3:39.54 as he, runner-up Steve Scott and third-place Tim Hacker finished less than a tenth of a second apart.
With the injured Lewis withdrawn, Kirk Baptiste added the 200-meter title to the 100 he captured Saturday. Baptiste needed a late lean to catch Texas high school runner Roy Martin in 20.11.
Merlene Ottey-Page of Jamaica completed a women's sprint sweep by taking the 200 in 21.93, fastest time in the world this year.
Most of the other women's races were hotly contested. Claudette Groenendaal of Oregon might have thought the crowd of 9,631 was cheering her, since she struggled past Romo to win the 800 in a collegiate record 1:59.48 just as Banks landed in the pit a few feet to her left.
Diana Richburg had an easy time in the 1,500 meters, leaving Darlene Beckford and Ruth Wysocki to battle for second as she was clocked in 4:04.73