Hamm leaps into Olympic history books

The United States men’s track team endured a pretty miserable Olympic Games in Amsterdam, but the field events competitors went a good way to saving face.

Ray Barbuti’s victory in the 400m was the only individual victory on the track for the American men although the relay squads made up for the poor performance to some degree by taking home both golds on offer. However the men’s field athletes remained stronger, and none were more defiant than long jumper Ed Hamm. Hamm had taken the classic collegiate route to Olympic success, winning the Arkansas state title for three years in a row as well as collecting a litany of sprint titles along the way.

He narrowly failed to qualify for the 1924 Games in Paris, bouts of malaria curbing his fitness and training regimes quite severely, but he booked his place at the Amsterdam Games in emphatic style. In 1928 he became the national intercollegiate title before smashing the world record in the Olympic trials with a leap of 7.90m, a mark which would challenge many a national record to this day.

Come the day of competition, the event was seen as a contest between Hamm and the Haitian leaper Sylvio Cator. The pair were well clear of the field in qualifying, Hamm edging it with a leap of 7.73m, over a foot clear of the third-placed qualifier. The effort was even greater when considering that Hamm took a sharp sidestep midway through his run-up to avoid a rut in the cinder track leading to the pit.

The qualifying leaps were carried through to the final back then, and it proved sufficient for the American to claim the gold. It was slim consolation for Cator, who a matter of days later broke the world record and become the first man to break the 26-foot barrier.