When Matthew met Mike
On Saturday, world record holder Mike Powell takes to the runway at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships after a 12-year competitive break from the sport in a bid to claim the world masters record in the 50-54 age group of 6.84m. Among one of his main rivals will be current New Zealand champion Matthew Wyatt (PB 7.67m) who is bidding for a hat-trick of titles. Athletics NZ seized the opportunity for Matthew to put the questions to the US legend ahead of their eagerly awaited clash at Wellington's Newtown Park.
Maybe, it is a jumper's thing, but jumpers love to jump.
Rarely will Mike Powell – even now at the age of 51 – not pass a table or the top of a door frame and not wonder if he could jump over it, on it to that or touch the top of it. Ditto Matthew Wyatt, who as a child growing up Auckland would regularly compete with his brother Phillip (note, Phillip is New Zealand triple jump champion) on who could touch the ceiling, the top of the garage etc.
Jumpers it would seem, love to jump. Matthew and Mike may be more than a metre apart in personal bests but a shared passion forms the strongest of bonds between the pair.
MATT: How and when did you discover your talent for long jump?
MIKE: My jumping come from basketball. I used to love the dunk. If I could dunk then great. I was a freshman at university and I jumped 7.47m, which was pretty good aged 18. Then in my second year I went 8.05m. It was easy. The next jump I fouled 8.25m, so it was like, okay, from that moment on I know I can be one of the best in the country.
MATT: How did you international career progress from there?
MIKE: The next season was not very good then I left that particular school and went to UCLA. I trained and got the qualification mark for 1984 Olympic Trials and at trials jumped 8.13m. I had problems for the next couple of years with injuries and my coaching situation. This was when I was known as Mike Foul! I was jumping far but often not on the board. Then I started to be coached by Randy Huntingdon with Willie Banks (former world triple jump record holder) in 87' and 88'. In my first year with Randy I jumped 8.20m and I was number ten in the world. He said with your ability after a four-year programme that I was going to break the world record. Finally, somebody who believed in me. The next year I jumped 8.49m, the next year a wind aided 8.55m and then in 1990 8.66m. The next year I broke the world record. I came out in my first competition in 1992 and jumped 8.90m. I was upset. I wanted to go 9m something. I then jumped 8.99m wind aided (later in 1992) and that was with a hurt hamstring.
MATT: I know from my experience, I'm thinking every time I'm on the runway of jumping 8m but it has not quite happened yet. How do you get past that?
MIKE: I don't think about jumping 8m, I was think about trying to get the rhythm. They called me 'Mike Foul' because I was always fouling and the reason why I was fouling was because I was always trying to hit the board. I was always reaching for the board. If you look for the board you are going to foul. I was watching Carl Lewis (four-time Olympic long jump champion) and he would sometimes jump from behind the board and still go 8.70m. So I thought, wait a minute, it is more important to be in the right position. At that point I stopped trying to hit the board and I just put my foot down. If you are behind the board so be it because if you put your foot up you are going to lose more in the distance by changing your technique.
MIKE: How tall are you?
MATT: 6ft 1ins
MIKE: That's a good height. What's your speed like?
MATT: 10.64 for the 100m.
MIKE: That's good enough. Shoot, you should be up there jumping 8.20m.
MATT: I'm in shape to do it. We are just waiting for the numbers to drop. That is the barrier I am chasing.
MIKE: You know what you just got. Confirmation. I ain't seen you jump, but just looking at your body type I thought 8.20m and if I thought that, you should be thinking 8.30m or 8.40m because you know your body more than anybody.
MATT: You are currently giving back to the sport, Mike, as a coach and I'm captain of a junior club. Why do more athletes not give more back to the sport?
MIKE: I think for me personally it is because I'm a track geek. I love track. I just happen to be a world record holder. I know I would never have made it without people giving me advice and encouraging me. Look, we're a fraternity. You are my brother. I've got to help you in the way that people before me helped me. If I didn't help, I'd be selfish.
MATT: You have a love for the sport, but at any point did it just become a job?
MIKE: I made sure it never became a job. That's how I treat life now. If I'm not having fun then I'm going stop. I believe you need to have fun with everything.
MATT: You had a passion for basketball and DJing. Are there any aspects you brought into track from outside of the sport that gave you an edge?
MIKE: My brother is a musician plays for Kenny G and Diana Ross. He is self-taught musician who told me when I was 15 he was going to be the best percussionist in the world .He practised all the time. We shared a room together. He's now one of the best percussionists in the world. So for me that was my example of what hard work can achieve. Athletics is no different to anything else. It is about your mind-set and are you willing to do everything you can, legally of course, to get there.
MATT: You use visualisation, so what is going through your mind on the runway?
MIKE: The visualisation is done before I go out to the track. I would visualise everything. The drive, transition, the attack, the take off, the landing, the crowd response. I did it so often that I was on auto pilot when I was out there competing.
MATT: Carl Lewis was unbeaten in long jump for ten years (before Mike memorably defeated him with a world record jump of 8.95m at the 1991 World Championships). When did you first believe you could beat him?
MIKE: It was the 1985 US championships. Carl wasn't jumping and neither was Larry Myricks. James Grimes won with 8.50m something windy and I got third. I got my first jump in but the rest of them were all fouls. After the meet it was like 'hey man, Carl wants to talk to you.' So I came up to talk to him and he was sizing me up. He said to me, 'you know you were jumping 28ft out there (8.50m-8.60m). I said, 'Yeah I know' thinking to myself I'm one of the guys who is coming after you. I'm not a punk. Don't try and punk me out. We both knew at the moment that this is starting (rivalry).
MATT: At what moment did you know the world record jump was a big jump?
MIKE: Before I started to run. Then as soon as I started running, it was 'oh yeah.' One step leads to the next. Nice drive, good transition. I'm flying. Then I was looking for the ground and I started turning sideways. If you look from the front my feet go to the side. I have no doubt that I would have jumped 9.20m had I not done that. I wasn't used to being in the air for so long. I always say now don't jump short, if it doesn't feel good that's alright because you never know.
MATT: Your world record has lasted 24 years. Who was the last long jumper you thought could genuinely threaten the record?
MIKE: Dwight Phillips (four-time world champion). Irving Saldino. I don't know what happened to him after 2008 and I'm glad because I was scared of him. I first saw him at the Helsinki World Championships and I saw this pop and it was like 'who is that?' I thought if he ever starts running my record is gone because he had a spring with extension. His coach was a Brazilian and they have the same mentality as the Cuban and Russian coaches. It is not about technique and not speed. I learned speed. I thought to jump far you have to run fast. My official 100m was 10.4 but that was way back at college. My coach said I could probably have run 9.9 in the right race but the focus was on my flying 10m times.
MATT: What time could you run your flying 10m time in?
MIKE: I could run 0.88 electronic. My 10m segments were that of the top sprinters.
MATT: What would be the best piece of advice you could offer a young athlete?
MIKE: Surround yourself with good people; the best coach and the best therapist. Also get yourself in the best living situation and financial situation. Whenever I didn't accomplish something it was often stuff outside of athletics that changed my focus.
MATT: And any competition advice?
MIKE: Leave it all there and don't sell yourself short It is about performance I'm a show off, an entertainer. A ham. I know if people are watching I'm going to do better so I count on that. I always try to connect with the crowd.
MATT: Yes, some people have said with you (Mike) competing at New Zealand Championships, there'll be so many people watching and that I will be so nervous, but not at all you competing there is a dream result for me.
MIKE: Do you like the crowd clapping for you?
MATT: Love it
MIKE: It is going to be crazy. What is the New Zealand national record?
MATT: It is 8.05m. Okay, I get my masters record and you get the national record at New Zealand Championships. I'm going to be screaming out for you to get that.
Mike Powell and Matthew Wyatt will be in action in the men's long jump from 2pm on Saturday at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington.