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There were some questions about the triple jump--namely, questions such as "just what the heck is this thing anyway?" So, here ensues more than you would ever want to know about the triple jump.


The Mechanics:
The triple jump is one of the 4 jump events in track and field (high, long, triple, vault). It is most similar to the long jump. It consists of running down a runway, taking off at a board, and performing a series of 3 jumps before landing in a sand pit for a measurement.

Many of you many have seen it referred to as the "hop-skip-and-jump" or "hop-step-and-jump". This refers to the specific types of jumps that are performed.

Upon hitting the board, the first jump must end with the jumper landing on the same foot that was used on the initial takeoff. This is the "hop" phase. The second jump must end with the jumper landing on the opposite foot. This is the "step" or "skip" phase. Last, the jumper leaps into the sand pit for the final jump. The distance of the jump is measured from the front edge of the takeoff board (i.e., closest to the sand pit) to the nearest mark in the sand made by the jumper (including hand marks or foot marks or butt marks).


The Skill:
Each of the jumping events tests a different core skill. The triple looks most like the long jump, but they reward fundamentally different skill sets. The long jump is a pure speed event. There is certainly form to follow in the approach, takeoff, and flight. But raw speed is the fundamental skill that counts most. (This is why jumpers with poor form can still occasionally bust out a phenominal jump, a la Marion Jones. She's got pretty bad long jump form and has several form flaws, but her raw speed helps close the gap.) As a result, you see a lot of crossover between the 100m dash and the long jump.

The triple, on the other hand, rewards raw power. Speed helps, but the shock on the legs of doing the first two jumps while keeping your body in the proper position requires a great deal of raw strength. Form is also critical. A form break early in the first jump cascades through the rest of the sequence and affects the second and third jumps. Small errors get magnified greatly in this event. There is rarely any crossover between the triple and other events at the elite level of competition due to the specialized nature of the event.


The technique:
There's an old bit of coaching advice that notes that a good triple jump is heard more than it is seen. The best jumpers have a certain rhythm to them, and each of the 3 phases should be roughly even, both in air time and subsequently, in distance.

The overwhelming temptation for jumpers, particularly inexperienced ones, is to leap from the takeoff board just like it is a long jump takeoff. This results in a great first phase, but generally kills the second phase. If the first phase is too high, the trajectory is too steep coming down, and that makes it even harder on the legs and knees to absorb that shock and transition into the second phase. In the most extreme cases, a jumper may have a first phase about 4x longer than the second phase, instead of nice even phases.

Thus, sometimes, less is more. A 45 foot jump constructed of 3 15 foot phases is a lot easier on the body than is a 45 foot jump achieved by a 20-5-20 sequence of jumps. If the jumps are that different in length, you'll hear it.

Likewise, the second phase needs to be held in check to keep the body in position for the final jump. The tendency in this phase is to let your torso lean forward too far. If that happens, your third jump will go right into the ground. You need to stay tall and keep body position, which is hard given the transition from jump 1 to jump 2.

The final jump is into the sand like a long jump. At this point, the jumper has lost some of the horizontal momentum. It's also very hard to get significant air, as you do in the long jump, because you don't have an opportunity to settle your hips like the long jumpers do. As a result, triple jumpers find it difficult to do the "running in mid-air" (called a "hitch kick") that a long jumper does going into the pit. A triple jumper usually has to resort to a simple hang style.

The arms are a typically forgotten in the whole process, particularly for the novice. There's so much mental effort in learning how to stay legal with your feet that the arms are an after thought. But they're really key--they provide power in each phase as you swing them through, they provide balance and aid in body positioning, and they control the lateral torso twist (or, hopefully, lack thereof).

On the approach, even though it looks like a long jump, it generally is slower and lacks the hip settling that results in the maximum spring the long jumpers need. A long jumper accelerates all the way to the board. A triple jumper hits takeoff speed about 6 steps from the board, and then holds that speed while preparing for the takeoff. The long jumper settles the hips on the penultimate step, which in turn means the hips will pop up and through the takeoff board. The triple jumper does not do this because the additional height would be a detriment to the entire jump, as noted earlier. The triple jumper wants the takeoff to be long and low, while the longer jumper wants it to be fast and high.


The meet:
At most meets, jumpers are given 3 qualifying jumps. The top jumpers (usually top 8) advance to the finals, where they get 3 more jumps. The best of the 6 jumps is counted as your performance for the final results. In the event of a tie, the second best jump is used. At the Olympics, there is a preliminary round, where the top 12 advance to the finals. All 12 get 3 jumps, then the top 8 get 3 more. Prelim round distances don't count in this case, but again, the best of the 6 jumps during finals will count as your mark.



The competition:
The major difference I noticed in watching the medal winners yesterday was the arms. The gold medalist followed what is pretty much standard form these days--the double arm thrust, on all 3 phases. That takes a lot of coordination to get used to. The idea is that by swinging both arms forward together, you can maximize power, reduce torso twist, and use your arms to "block" your torso from rotating too far forward. This was the hardest part for me to learn, but it made a huge difference when I figured out how to do it.

The Romanian that took the silver still did an old-style single arm thrust. I'll be honest--I didn't know that any of the elite jumpers even did this any more, because the double arm has pretty much become the standard. It would sort of be like watching a high jumper do a scissor kick over the bar instead of the Fosbury Flop. The one thing that did make sense to me, I guess, was that this was a Romanian jumper--the single arm style was more popular among Eastern Bloc nations throughout the 1970s. Again, I thought the style had disappeared, but apparently it is still in use in some of those countries. Even to my eye, he looks really reckless out there, but he obviously pulled it off well enough for a silver.


Summary:
I did the event for 6 of the 8 years I ran track. I loved the event, and eventually specialized in it, slowly dropping my other events. At the high school and NCAA Division III level, there weren't too many people who specialized in the event, so I tended to have an advantage over jumpers with more natural talent due to being a student of the event. I wasn't the fastest, nor the strongest, but I knew what I was doing out there and my form was as good or better than nearly everyone else competing at that level.

It really is an event where hard work and study can make up for lack of raw natural ability. Perfect for a big slow guy like me who was fast at top speed, but too slow out of the blocks to be a top sprinter, and not flexible enough to be a top hurdler.

Now you all know way, way more about the triple jump than you ever wanted to, I'm sure, but I'll still take questions if anyone has any.

--WP
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