Al Joyner watched as world-record holder Willie Banks sprinted down the runway on the first attempt in the triple jump competition. Joyner is the 1984 Olympic champion, and he expected to earn the right to defend his title in Seoul.
Banks hit the board well and carried good speed with him through the hop and step phases of the triple. Then, in the jump, he soared above the pit. "I was flying and didn't want to come down," Banks said. When at last he did, the crowd exploded. Banks had landed beyond the marker indicating his own three-year-old world record of 58'11½". The measurement was posted: 59'3". It was the first time anyone had jumped beyond 59 feet.
Even though the mark would not be a world record because of a tail wind of 4.9 meters per second—the allowable maximum is 2.0—its effect was apparent. Charlie Simpkins, the next jumper, fouled. Joyner did the same. It was not until the third round that Joyner reached a legal 57'8¼". That placed him third, on the bubble. In the fifth round Joyner's best friend, Mike Conley, burst it. Conley was credited with a 57'9¾", bumping Joyner to fourth.
The final round began with Banks again soaring. This time his jump measured 59'8½", but again the wind was too strong for a world record. Simpkins was up next, and he too rode the wind. His jump of 58'10" was the fourth farthest ever and moved him into second, ahead of Robert Cannon's 57'10¼". Now Joyner was fifth.
July 24, 1988
Joyner made his last attempt just as his sister Jackie Joyner-Kersee was running the final lap of the heptathlon 800. Al hit the sand 57'7½" from the board. Without looking at the scoreboard, he knew. It was over.
As Al walked away, head down, Jackie came to the finish, cheered wildly by the crowd. Later, in the interview tent, Jackie broke into tears at the news of her brother's failure. "She cried when I won in LA.," Al said. "And now she's cried when I lost."
Joyner hoped that at least Conley might yet qualify. And indeed, Conley appeared to better Cannon's third-place mark. But the officials said Conley's shorts had scraped the sand some eight inches short of his apparent landing spot, and marked the jump there: 57'7". Conley was thunderstruck.
Joyner's day of whirlwind emotion was almost done. His sister had broken the world record; his wife, Florence Griffith Joyner, had set the most amazing sprint record ever. Yet he will not defend his Olympic title, and his best friend had also failed to win his way to Seoul this day. "I came close to tears when Mike had that expression on his face," Joyner said.