Mike Powell broke the long jump world record 24 years ago in perhaps the greatest head-to-head duel in track and field history.
Now 51, Powell expects to break the long jump world record in his masters age-group category of 50 to 55 years old on March 7 in New Zealand, after losing 67 pounds while training the last two years.
Powell said it will be his first jump in competition since 2001. He reportedly made similar plans to jump at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, and again go for masters marks in 2006, 2007 and 2009, but none worked out.
His world record from the 1991 World Championships is 8.95 meters (29 feet, 4 1/2 inches). The 50-55 masters world record is 6.84 meters (22 feet, 5 1/2 inches).
He will continue to compete — should he not injure himself in New Zealand, he jokes — and, if he is able to jump far enough to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, he will enter them.
Powell said Monday he weighs 180 pounds and within five pounds of his weight when he last jumped at the Olympics in 1996. He won silver medals at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.
“I can dunk really easily right now,” Powell, who is 6 feet, 2 inches, said in a phone interview. “I feel like I was when I was in my 20s.”
Powell said he knows he will jump at least 23 feet, 5 inches, in New Zealand, and that he would be pleased with a 24-foot jump. He would likely have to jump at least 25 feet, 5 inches, in the next 16 months to meet U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying criteria.
“If there’s a .001 percent chance that can happen, I’ve got to go for it,” he said.
Of course, health is key. Powell said he is jumping off his weak leg right now due to injury.
“It’s scary stuff,” training again, Powell said. “My body’s like, what the heck are you doing?”
Powell also said he can leap 34 inches vertically today. He jumped 42 inches, at least, at his peak, according to reports from the early 1990s.
“It’s going to get up there by next year,” he said. “I have no doubt what my body can do physically. It’s a matter of if I can figure out how to do it so it doesn’t break.”
Powell, a long jump coach for most of the years since his retirement, can be seen at dawn at Heritage Community Park in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., dancing by himself among the morning groundskeepers.
“I’m going to be one of those guys who shows up at the track at 75,” he said. “I’m not going to stop jumping.”