Mike Powell in the long jump pit at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Gary Prior’s story behind the picture – capturing Mike Powell’s crash landing

US long jumper Mike Powell is best remembered for his world record-breaking exploits at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, however, he endured a forgettable competition which ended with him unceremoniously face down in the sandpit.

Photographer Gary Prior was on the scene and captured this visually striking picture.

 

“The funny thing about this particular image is that although I was on the infield that night, I wasn’t slated to even cover the men’s long jump as that role was given to another Getty photographer, coincidentally also called Mike Powell.

“But, as often happens, there was a lull in the action, so I wandered over to the long jump pit towards the end of the competition.

“To be honest, that night I hadn’t been paying close attention to the long jump. I was aware of the enthusiastic and vibrant support shown by the home crowd in Atlanta because Carl Lewis was chasing a fourth straight Olympic long jump title (which he went on to achieve with 8.50m), his fellow American Joe Greene was also competing (Greene secured bronze with 8.24m) and Mike was also hunting a first Olympic gold.

“I had a long lens with me and as soon as I took my position about 20 to 30 metres from the pit, Mike Powell started his run up. I remember his world record jump in Tokyo but as soon as he took off down the runway that night for his sixth-round jump, it did not look right as he approached the take-off board. Sure enough, he ran through and landed flat on his face in the sand. (It was Powell’s sixth and final attempt and he wound up fifth overall with a best of 8.17m).

“I got lucky in that Mike turned towards me covered in sand. Straight away I knew it had made a good picture, although as those were pre-digital days, I dropped the film in a bag for a runner to take to the office to be processed and I continued shooting the remaining events for the night.

“When I first saw the developed image, I was excited. Shot in a tight frame, it looks nice and I recall one of the big US magazines using it as a double-page spread.

“The image works well because it is quite unusual and not one you would see every day. But I also think it works well because it perfectly sums up the story. It was the end of not only Mike Powell’s competition but also his career (he retired aged 33 in the wake of the Atlanta Olympics only to make a comeback in 2001).

“Looking back, I am proud of the picture. I have fond memories of the 1996 Games; there seemed to be so many good stories. It was also my first Games on the infield and to be one of only 15 to 20 photographers to be given that opportunity was a real privilege.”

Steve Landells for the IAAF