Jumping to conclusions
The long jump is much more than just running and jumping
You run and jump.
Simple, right? The athlete bounds down the runway, jumps and lands in a pit. But the long jump may be one of the most unknown, and under appreciated, events in track and field.
Sprinters are generally unimpressed.
Long jumpers, meanwhile, can become agitated.
“Most people think you just run and jump, and it’s frustrating,” said Grand Junction long jumper Whitney Jackson, who placed eighth Thursday in the Class 5A state track and field championships. “First of all, you have to have the perfect board mark.”
Laced with phases and stages that carry names such as “penultimate,” the event takes years to master.
Here is a summarized breakdown of the event, along with thoughts from local athletes who competed in the long jump at this weekend’s state track and field championships on what they love about this event that’s part hurdling, part sprinting, and juiced with X Games-like mystery.
SETTING UP THE APPROACH
To get that perfect board mark, where a competitor jumps off the board without going even a quarter-inch over, a typical high school jumper will count out 16 total strides from the board.
Of course there are many ways to mark the start of an approach run. And the number of steps, as with any other detail of the long jump, varies with the speed and preference of the athlete.
“I have them stand on the board, with the balls of their feet,” Palisade long and triple jump coach Jill Bounds said.
Then the runner counts eight right-footed steps. The eighth spot is marked, sometimes with a strip of tape. The jumper can make numerous approaches to the board and adjust the mark.
Standing at their mark, the jumper tends to look beyond the pit and go through jumping motions, taking a step back, rising up on both toes, a sort of aerobics move.
“Then I keep it simple,” said Fruita Monument long jumper James Lewis, who took the second-best qualifying jump into the Class 5A state meet, where he finished 14th Friday. “I only think about the board.”
APPROACH RUN AND ATTACK PHASE
Like sprinters, the jumpers usually keep their head low and pump their arms high. This is the drive phase. The head is slowly raised into the transition phase, after which the long jumper truly is a sprinter.
“Some people are so fast they can’t stay under control if they’re at an all-out sprint,” Bounds said.
Focused on the horizon — never the board — the sprinter approaches the second-to-last step.
The second-to-last step, known as the penultimate step, is flat-footed, and the sprinter takes a longer stride to lower the center of gravity. The hips drop so the jumper can rise.
The head tilts upward.
The final step is a stutter.
The sprinter leaps, body slightly backward, one arm back, chin and hips lifted. The arms and a free leg move upward as the jumper continues to look beyond the pit.
“You focus on a point,” Bounds said. “At our school that’s just a line of trees.”
When in flight, the jumper uses a stride, hang or hitch technique, which depends on what works best for the individual.
In the air, flailing and exploding the chest upward, there is even time to think.
“I think about what I’m doing wrong,” said Jackson, who does a hitch kick, which, for half of the flight, is like running on air. “It kind of goes slow.”
Welcome to the sand box.
“You get to feel the power you had at takeoff, and it’s just cool when there’s sand going everywhere,” said Grand Valley jumper Jordan Stienke, who finished fifth Saturday with a leap of 16-7.5. “I try to land on my right hip. It’s real nice when they wet down the pit. You jump in, and you get all cool. It feels good. The only bad part is cleaning it off.”
Because the length of the jump is measured from the board to the landing point farthest back in the pit, the hands are extended forward.
Bounds said she instructs her jumpers to drop their hands beside their feet.
And the event official says “mark,” and the jump is measured, or “scratch,” and the jump is void.
The jumper exits on the outside of the pit.
So much for a simple run and jump.
“You have to gain a lot of speed in a short distance,” said Grand Junction sprinter Emily Robbins, who had a brief introduction to the event.
“It’s definitely a lot harder than you think.”