Mike Powell's making his way to the medal presentation for the
long jump at the World Track and Field Championships was a
familiar sight, but last summer in Paris the three-time U.S.
Olympian approached the dais not as a medal winner but as a
coach. Twelve years after setting the world record with a leap of
29'4 1/2" at the world championships in Tokyo, Powell was
celebrating another milestone: His protegee, 26-year-old Anju
Bobby George of India, had won the women's bronze, her country's
first-ever medal in the prestigious meet.
Since retiring from competition in 1997, Powell has coached
jumpers worldwide and, since 2000, has been affiliated with the
track program at Cal State-Fullerton. Originally he enrolled
there to earn a master's degree in sports psychology, but then he
volunteered to work with the school's jumpers. Two years later he
became a full-time assistant coach.
Now Powell, 40, is back in training, working out two or three
times a day in a bid to qualify for the Athens Games this summer.
"If I can make the team, great," says Powell, who is eyeing the
Modesto Relays in May as a chance to qualify for the U.S. track
and field trials at Sacramento in July. "If not, at least I can
get away with coaching with my shirt off."
A few years ago Powell was reluctant to remove his shirt in
public. He remembers Thanksgiving, 2000--when he tipped the
scales at 230 pounds, 55 more than his competitive weight--as the
day he became fed up with himself. "I was feeling proud after
putting away a few plates," he says. "Then I sat down and rested
my hands on my stomach, and I thought, Whoa, that thing wasn't
there before. I better fix this." He vowed to start working out
again the next day. "I had no plans to compete," Powell says,
"but I didn't want to go through life with a beer belly."
As his midsection receded over the next few months, he began to
regain the inner fire that drove him to win silver medals in the
long jump at the 1988 and '92 Olympics, finishing behind Carl
Lewis both times. What's more, Powell was still haunted by his
fifth-place finish in his last meet--the 1996 Atlanta Games. That
day he competed with an injured groin muscle and wound up with a
face full of sand after an awkward final jump. He returned to
competition at the Modesto Relays in 2001, finishing first with a
jump of 26'5 1/4", and went on to take fourth at the nationals
that year with a leap of 26'7". Though he hasn't competed since
then, a dearth of good U.S. jumpers has motivated him to set his
sights on Athens.
About the time that Powell restored his career, he did the same
with his marriage. "My wife, Casie, and I had separated and filed
for divorce [in 1999]," he says, "but the courts misplaced the
paperwork. I don't know if it was a sign, but we decided to try
again." In November, Casie gave birth to Carlee, the couple's
With his marriage and his career--and his world record--in good
standing, Powell is back on track. --Brian Cazeneuve
The record holder in the long jump since '91, Powell has been
coaching for seven years and will try to make his fourth Olympic