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' 4½" at the world championships in Tokyo, Powell was celebrating another milestone: His protégée, 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' 5¼", 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 first child.
With his marriage and his career—and his world record—in good standing, Powell is back on track.