The Long Jumper
Who Carries All Before Him
-the Astounding Leap
that Stunned the World-
All athletes aspire for an opportunity to test their abilities at an ever higher level, and they may even dream to become No.1 in the world. One of the para-athletes who is closest to achieving this dream is likely amputee long jumper Markus Rehm of Germany. But his real dream actually lies elsewhere.
Rehm, who was long jump Gold medalist at the London Paralympics, competed in October 2015 at the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) World Championships in Doha. He marked his third consecutive championships win in the long jump with an overwhelming jump that left the runner-up behind by more than 1 meter.
His leap of 8.40m renewed his own T44 (unilateral below-knee amputation, etc.) long jump world record of 8.29m by a significant margin. It was a gold-medal-grade long jump that exceeded the 2012 London Olympics’ winning record of 8.31m and came to within 1cm of the winning record of 8.41m at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in 2015.
Regarding his record-breaking leap, Rehm said that he had great run-up, take-off and posture in the air, and was confident that it had been a great jump. He was elated when he saw his record and felt that it had been made possible because he had trained without any injury toward the championships and felt in terrific shape. The weather conditions, he said, had also been very good, and he felt it helped that he had been able to enjoy the overall competition. He said, calmly, albeit with a smile, that the more-than-satisfying jump at the last competition of the season was the result of the various factors coming together perfectly.
Debate Over Whether
a Prosthetic Leg Provides
an Unfair Advantage
Creates a Major
Obstacle for Rehm
Rehm astounded the world in July 2014 when he took part in the German National Championships in Ulm, competing against and winning over able-bodied Olympians and other long jumpers. He became the first amputee long jumper in Germany to take first place in an able-bodied event.
The aforementioned championships also served as the qualifying trial to represent Germany in the European Championships taking place the following month. With his win, Rehm became a prime candidate, sending shockwaves through the world of athletics as a Paralympian who had defeated Olympians. Furthermore, the record of 8.24m was a distance that would have earned a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Hopes were raised that Rehm would capture medals at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
On the other hand, controversy was created when objections were raised from athletes and other concerned parties, who questioned whether Rehm’s carbon fiber running blade might have worked to an unfair advantage in the jump. After several days of examination, the German Athletics Association ultimately chose an able-bodied long jumper who had placed second in the championships over Rehm, the winner, to represent Germany.
However, it is not as if anyone can achieve such distances using a prosthetic leg. Rehm said that he wanted people to see the hard work he does in training. He has increased the amount of training he carries out and is also working to improve his jumping form. He has already exceeded the standard record for qualifying for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics (8.15m), but the wall between him and participation in the Olympics is very high.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) recently expressed the opinion that as a condition for participation in international events, athletes using prosthetics should be required to establish that the return force on the artificial limb would not provide a competitive advantage. With the yearly enhancement of prostheses development technology, better records are being achieved, including in sprint events. Meanwhile, no conclusion has yet been reached in the debate over the “unfair advantage of artificial limbs,” which has been going on for several years, even before Rehm’s fine showings. The IAAF is probably responding to current circumstances.
The cooperation of a research institute, such as a university, would be required to prove that there would be no unfair competitive advantage, and costs could run into several hundred thousand dollars. There is also no way of knowing how long it would take. It would prove to be a major financial burden for athletes.
Rehm’s Olympic Dream
—the True Meaning and Efforts
Shortly after his victory in Doha, Rehm was again asked about his dream to participate in the Olympics Games.
He said, “I am an amputee, and I am really proud of being a Paralympic athlete.” He added, “I just want to bring the para-athletes and Olympic athletes a bit closer. I look at the world ranking, at how far they can go and how far I go, and that is definitely what I am looking for.” He spoke of Paralympians competing against able-bodied athletes in the Olympics as a prime opportunity to bring the Paralympic and Olympic sports closer and to show Paralympic sports to more people.
Rehm lost his right leg in a wakeboarding accident at age 14. It was a deep shock to the athletically talented teenager. However, he was able to return to the world of sports using a prosthetic limb, regaining confidence and experiencing the joy of starting a brand-new life. He acquired a license as a prosthetist and supports people with impairments on a daily basis through his work as a prosthetic technician.
And now, Rehm’s biggest objective for aiming to participate in the Olympics is to shine on the world stage as a para-athlete and garner attention on para-sports events and increase the respect given to para-athletes.
At Doha, he was asked how much more he thinks he can increase his distance. He looked up at the sky for a moment with a thoughtful expression on his face, then directed his gaze back to his interviewer. He responded that he thought 8.40m was a pretty good record, but he might be able to extend the distance a little more. However, it would only be possible if, like at Doha, he was in excellent shape and the weather conditions were also favorable, and if he is able to steadily carry out hard training.
Rehm believes in possibilities and will not spare any effort. It is by doing so that good records will follow.
text by Kyoko Hoshino
photo by Takao Ochi