To start a series of Triple Jump Legends I’ll be featuring the athlete who first inspired me to take up the event in the early 1980s – Great Britain’s Keith Connor.
Connor made an early breakthrough into the senior ranks at the age of 20 in 1978, setting a new British Indoor Record of 16.54m before taking silver in the European Indoor Championships in Milan that winter. He jumped 16.53m there, behind Anatoliy Piskulin of the Soviet Union (16.82m) and 6 cm ahead of bronze medallist Aleksandr Yakovlev (Soviet Union). During the summer of 1978, at his first major games, Connor took gold at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, jumping a wind-aided 17.21m ahead of Australia’s Ian Campbell (16.93w) and fellow Briton Aston Moore (16.69m). In the competition Connor also produced a legal effort of 16.76m to set his first British Outdoor Record, bettering the 16.68m Moore had set earlier in the summer. A few weeks later at the European Championships in Prague Connor jumped 16.64m for 6th place in a competition won by Miloš Srejović (Yugoslavia) with his last round effort of 16.94m, just 1 cm ahead of the great Victor Saneyev with European Indoor Champion Piskulin 3rd with 16.87m.
1979 was injury hit for Connor, but he returned in fine form in Melbourne in January 1980 increasing his British Record twice in the same competition, jumping 16.90m and then 17.16m. Later that year he placed 4th in the controversial Olympic Final in Moscow, jumping 16.87m behind the Soviet Union’s Jaak Uudmae (17.35m) and Saneyev (17.24m), with World Record Holder João Carlos de Oliveira (Brazil) taking bronze with 17.22m. Australia’s Ian Campbell placed 5th with his only legal jump of 16.72m, though many believe he was robbed of the gold medal by officials enforcing a “scrape” rule on a jump around 17.60m, as well as other dubious no jump calls made throughout the competition.
1981 began strongly for Connor, setting a new British Indoor Record of 17.08m in Dallas in January before breaking the World Indoor Record with 17.31m winning the NCAA title in Detroit in March. Later in the year he claimed bronze at the World Student Games in Bucharest, Romania, jumping 16.88m behind China’s Zou Zhenxian, jumping a massive 17.32m, and Hungary’s Béla Bakosi (16.97m).
1982 proved to be the pinnacle of Connor’s career. Jumping in the NCAA Championships in the high altitude of Provo, Utah, Connor unleashed the 2nd longest jump ever at that stage (to de Oliveira’s 17.89m), breaking the sand at 17.57m. This stood as the British record for another 13 years before Jonathan Edwards bettered it by 1 cm. Just 4 days later Connor jumped in the UK v USA v Sweden match at Crystal Palace. His duel with Willie Banks that evening received rare high-profile TV attention for the Triple Jump as the BBC’s Sportsnight presented a feature on Connor and Banks in the build-up. Connor didn’t disappoint, jumping a new British All-comers record of 17.30m to take victory. Two months later Australian Ken Lorraway stretched the UK All-comers record to 17.46m, also at Crystal Palace, and the scene was set for a battle royale for Commonwealth gold between the pair in Brisbane 2 months later.
First for Connor, though, was the European Championships in Athens, held in early September. I recall running the mile or so back from school to watch this competition start at 4pm BST, frantically flicking between BBC and ITV hoping to see some Triple jump action. Connor performed well and took gold with a new Championship Record of 17.29m ahead of Vasiliy Grishchenkov (Soviet Union) and Bakosi, jumping 17.15m and 17.04m respectively.
AthleticJumps video of Biomenchanic Analysis of the 1982 European Championships in Athens featuring Keith Connor:
Onto Brisbane for the Commonwealth Games where Connor and Lorraway battled it out in a wind-aided competition. Lorraway’s 4th round effort of 17.54m was only good enough for silver as Connor leapt an incredible 17.81m for gold, probably denied breaking the 18 metre barrier only by a small amount of over rotation on his jump phase. Aston Moore once again took bronze for Great Britain jumping 16.76m.
Kevin Sibley’s video of Ken Lorraway v Keith Connor in Brisbane, 1982:
In the days before video recorders (in my house, at least) let alone YouTube, Connor’s efforts in Brisbane meant I was treated to a weekly reminder of his technique the following spring as his winning jump was regularly used in the opening titles to the BBC children’s show “We Are the Champions”. Connor ended 1982 as the Number 1 ranked Triple Jumper in the World.
Despite 1983 starting promisingly by jumping 17.26m to take his hat-trick of NCAA titles, Connor was soon hampered by injury. By the time the inaugural World Championships began in Helsinki he was far from fully fit and missed out on qualification for the final for the only time at a major championships in his career. He finished 15th with 16.18m, one place behind an 18 year-old Bulgarian by the name of Khristo Markov who managed 16.25m.
Connor returned for the 1984 season never fully back to his best. At the Los Angeles Olympics that summer he seemed destined to be placed out of the medals behind the strong USA line-up of Banks, Conley and Joyner, let alone the likes of Zhenxian and rising British star Eric McCalla. However, in his last major games Connor rose to the occasion and determinedly took bronze with 16.87m behind Joyner’s opening effort of 17.26m and Conley’s 17.18m.
Connor retired soon after Los Angeles and has since led a successful career as a coach and sports administrator, mainly in Australia. Over-shadowed by the likes of Coe, Ovett, Thompson and Wells in the early 80s, he is sometimes the forgotten man of the golden era of British athletics. But here at iTripleJump.co.uk, Keith Connor will always be a true and unforgettable legend of the sport.