mike rowbottom ©insidethegamesStraight up, I have to deliver a bit of bad news to Mike Powell. If the Philadelphia-born 51-year-old manages to break the World Masters M50 long jump mark as he plans the weekend after next he will not - as his publicity material claims - become the only athlete in any sport, or even his own, to hold a Masters and absolute world record at the same time.

The triple jump world record of 18.29 metres belonging to Britain's Jonathan Edwards may not have stood for as long as Powell's – he set it at the IAAF World Championships in Gothenburg four years later - but it still stands. And Edwards is the M35 record holder with the mark of 17.92 he jumped in Edmonton to win the 2001 world title.

Having waved that British flag on behalf of one of its great athletes, however, let me now pay due tribute to one of the most glorious and affable of track and field performers.

Britain's Jonathan Edwards reacts at the 1995 IAAF World Championships in Gothenburg after setting a triple jump world record of 18.29m which stands today. He is also the M35 World Masters record holder with 17.92 ©Getty ImagesBritain's Jonathan Edwards reacts at the 1995 IAAF World Championships in Gothenburg after setting a triple jump world record of 18.29m which stands today. He is also the M35 World Masters record holder with 17.92 ©Getty Images

Powell, who retired in 1996, was one of those athletes who looked doomed to be in the honourable club of those who would have earned all the glittering prizes had it not been for the misfortune of sharing a career with a legend. As he has said more than once, his "whole life story is being the underdog".

In his case the legend was fellow American Carl Lewis. Remember him? Er yes. Four golds at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, including the long jump - a feat matching that of his illustrious US forbear Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games. And he would go on to win the next three Olympic long jump titles, the last of which, at the Atlanta Games of 1996, saw him record a distance of 8.50m which jointly stands as the world M35 record.

It's just that King Carl doesn't have the actual world record...

By the time he set his marks for the long jump final at the 1991 IAAF World Championships, Lewis - who had reclaimed the world 100 metres record four days earlier - was undefeated in 60 long jump competitions over 10 years. He had won the previous world titles in 1983 and 1987. And he had qualified with a jump that was a foot further than any rival.

At the 1988 Olympics, Powell had jumped 8.49m, enough to finish in silver medal position behind Lewis as the latter defended his title with an effort of 8.72.

Carl Lewis on his way to winning the second of four Olympic long jump titles at Seoul 1988. By the time he met Mike Powell in the long jump final at the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo he had been unbeaten for a decade ©Getty ImagesCarl Lewis on his way to winning the second of four Olympic long jump titles at Seoul 1988. By the time he met Mike Powell in the long jump final at the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo he had been unbeaten for a decade ©Getty Images

As the 1991 long jump on the new, super-fast Tokyo track surface played out, it looked for most of the event as if the result would be the same.

Lewis led through four of the six rounds. His first round jump of 8.68m had set a World Championship record, and was further than Powell's personal best. In the third round he went further, reaching 8.83, although wind assistance above the legal limit of two metres-per-second annulled the effort for record purposes.

So far, so expected. But then Powell roused himself to a fourth round jump which looked very close to Lewis's leading mark. It was ruled a foul - which prompted Powell to go down on his knees at the board in an effort to see the minute indentation in the plasticine which had ruled his effort out. It appeared to be an image of terminal frustration.

Lewis, in turn, twisted the knife with his own fourth round effort, which surpassed by one centimetre the world record distance of 8.90m US athlete Bob Beamon had set at the 1968 Olympics in the thin air of Mexico City, although it was not admissible for record purposes as the wind gauge measured 2.9 metres per second - more than the allowable two metres-per-second reading. But gold don't worry about wind readings...

The fifth round. And Powell, having just watched the longest measured jump in history, surpassed it with an effort that was achieved with a legal wind. Just 0.03mps, in fact. And the distance? 8.95.

Mike Powell in flight during the 1991 Wolld Championships long jump final where he finally beat Carl Lewis, setting a world record of 8.95m ©Getty ImagesMike Powell in flight during the 1991 Wolld Championships long jump final where he finally beat Carl Lewis, setting a world record of 8.95m ©Getty Images




It was a measure of Lewis that, rather than crumpling, he responded with a lifetime best with a legal wind behind him of 8.87. It was a superb response - but he was still in silver medal position.

When Powell fouled on his sixth and final effort, he was left praying, literally, as Lewis made his final effort. It was tremendous. It was 8.84, his second best ever legal jump. And it was not enough.

Thus the competition included the best three wind-legal attempts of Lewis' career, plus a wind-aided attempt beyond the existing world record that he had chased for ten years. For second place.

Powell and Lewis had both surpassed the existing world record, albeit that one of the efforts was wind-assisted.

Never before, and never since, has there been such high class drama in a long jump competition.

Mike Powell on the podium after his 1991 world title win, flanked by Carl Lewis (right) and bronze medallist Lary Myricks ©Hulton Collection/Getty ImagesMike Powell on the podium after his 1991 world title win, flanked by Carl Lewis (right) and bronze medallist Lary Myricks ©Hulton Collection/Getty Images

But who knows what drama awaits the Athletics New Zealand Track and Field Championships from March 6 to 8, where Powell announced on February 20 that he would be returning to competition to shoot for another world record?

To do that, he will have to surpass the current M50 mark of 6.84 set in 1994 by Tapani Taavitsainen of Finland.

Looking through the list of the men's masters records which Powell is seeking to join, a clear pattern emerges - and Powell bucks the trend.

The youngest age category M35, and its next door neighbour M40 - as you might expect - contains many world famous athletes who have extended their careers to good, and sometimes extraordinary effect.

Britain's Linford Christie is M35 record holder at both 100m - 9.97sec run in 1995 - and 200m, having run 20.11 the following year ahead of his false-start fiasco at the Atlanta Olympics.

Johnny Gray of the United States holds the M35 800m record, an astonishing 1min 43.36sec at the Zurich Weltklasse in 1995, while the M35 1500m mark stands to former world champion Bernard Lagat, 3:32.51 set in Monaco in 2010.

Lagat is a Masters master, in fact, holding the M35 marks also for the mile - 3:51.38 at London in 2011 - the 3,000m - 7:29.00 in Rieti in 2010 - and 5,000m - 12:53.60 in Monaco in 2011.
Haile Gebrselassie also has his name in the lists, with an M35 10,000m mark of 26:51.20 set in Hengelo in 2008, and his then world record of 2:03.59 for the marathon in Berlin in 2008.

Bernard Lagat, pictured winning at the 2013 US Championships, is a master of the Masters, with M35 age group records in the 1500m, mile, 3,000m and 5,000m ©Getty ImagesBernard Lagat, pictured winning at the 2013 US Championships, is a master of the Masters, with M35 age group records in the 1500m, mile, 3,000m and 5,000m ©Getty Images

Once you get past the first two age levels, however, you don't see names you recognise. It's another ball game. But it's one Powell now wants to play in.

Powell, who now coaches long jump permanently at the Academy of Speed in Rancho Cucamonga, California, as well as working as an analyst for Yahoo Sports Olympic Track and Field coverage, commented: "Barring injury, and injury could hinder any athlete at any age, I am confident of medalling and even winning at the Championships.

"This is an exciting challenge for me to actually compete with athletes half my age and I am confident about breaking the masters record.

"It will be interesting to see the dynamics of the competition. Will the other athletes relax a little and take it for granted they can beat the old man?  Or will they be motivated to try harder for bragging rights by beating Mike Powell the World record holder?

"Either way I will be energised. This is not like the ceremonial throwing out of the first ball in baseball.  I am going to New Zealand to strike out but to win the event and break the Masters record.

"The other athletes should not be deceived by my age. I may be a little slower than when I beat Carl Lewis in 1991 but with age comes knowledge. Along with personal training I have been studying advanced techniques and have unique long jump knowledge that probably nobody in the world possesses."

Nobody would argue about that.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. To follow him on Twitter click here.