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Mechanics, mentality help track & field jumpers aim high

Mechanics, mentality help track & field jumpers aim high

Mechanics, mentality help track & field jumpers aim high
March 27
01:13 2014

Ehsan Azad // Staff Writer

Images of an athlete flying through the air on the pole vault or springing over a hurdle easily come to mind when thinking about the jumping events at a track and field meet. However, do you know anything about the mechanics, athleticism and mentality involved in the jumping events?

Long Jump

Senior Clint Clarke placed fifth in the long (distance) jump event at the TCU Invitational in Fort Worth March 21. One of the Mean Green long jumpers is senior Clint Clarke, who admitted to joining the events because of the amount of running the other track athletes have to do.

“Running was not for me,” Clarke said.

Clarke said there aren’t any complications to understanding the event.

“It is a horizontal jump,” Clarke said. “You start off by running 30 meters, your foot placement is on a whiteboard and then you try to jump the furthest into a pit.”

The pit is a long rectangular area filled with sand, where the athletes land. Officials then measure the distance the athlete jumped.  Clarke said technique and explosiveness are some keys to being a successful jumper.

“The better your speed and the stronger you are, the better your jumps will be,” Clarke said.

Though he doesn’t like cardio training, Clarke said jumpers must do plenty during the offseason and he makes sure to walk on a consistent basis.

“We have to do 600s, 500s, and 400s,” Clarke said, referring to the amount of meters he runs around the track.

Clarke said he never considers his work to be over and trains five days a week.

“It is like I’m training six days a week because I have track meets on Saturdays,” Clarke said.

Clarke said the event is easier compared to others such as the pole vault, but it does have issues that affect the jumper.

“The impact that your back takes during the event,” Clarke said. “The easiest part is that we only have 30 meters to get to the bar.”

During recruiting, coaches sometimes look to other sports for players who would be a good fit.

“We found in the past that athletes who are good basketball players are pretty good horizontal jumpers,” head coach Carl Sheffield said. “We like to find athletes that have very high-level amounts of athleticism and speed is a very high prerequisite.”

Sheffield said the way the long jumpers practice varies from day to day, but the main focuses are speed and acceleration, while some days are just dedicated to working on technique.


Hurdling is a hybrid of both jumping and track events. Currently, the Mean Green has three hurdlers on the roster, including junior Chastity Stewart, who placed second at the TCU Invitational.

The event entails running a set distance and jumping 10 hurdles positioned over that distance on the track. Stewart said that the hardest part has nothing to do with the actual race.

“The hardest part is working with all the technical issues,” Stewart said. “It is really technical with projecting where your hips are, shin angles and other issues like that.”

Stewart said those issues sometimes make practice difficult to focus. Practices can be very intense and long, filled with different aspects that athletes try to master.

“We have warm-ups, we’ll do a few hurdle drills, then work on my lead leg then my trail leg,” Stewart said. “Then afterwards we will do distance work to sure we are ready for 400 meters.”

Included in drills are A-Skip drills, which focus on pushing off the ground with your straight leg and keeping up a good angle with the other leg coming up. This type of drill is worked on the side of the hurdle, which helps your lead leg. Another drill is called a C-Skip drill, which deals with your trail leg. This drill involves using your hamstring and bringing it to your chest while you move it over the hurdle.

Stewart said that the typical hurdler isn’t set on one type and there are many different types of hurdlers.

“There are tall skinny ones, there are larger ones, and you just have to brave enough to run full speed at a static object,” Stewart said.

Sometimes when running full speed at stagnant objects, accidents do happen. Stewart said they are inevitable, but focus can lessen the frequency.

“At practice, I guess I wasn’t as focused as I should be and my foot got caught on a hurdle,” Stewart said. “I face planted on three hurdles.”

Though the event is set apart from the running events by jumping hurdles, Stewart said Sheffield is always preaching the hurdlers should think of themselves as sprinters and not jumpers.

“You aren’t running at the hurdle at any different pace, you are sprinting full speed at them,” Stewart said.

For Sheffield, hurdling has a similar approach to long jumping. He said the better the athlete is at sprinting, the better hurdler they are.

“Hurdling and long jumping are very similar events where you need a high level of speed and coordination,” Sheffield said. “Just try to find the most athletic kids for those events.”

Pole Vault

The pole vault involves an athlete carrying a large pole and running full speed toward a small box on the ground. The object of the event is to stick the pole straight into the box, which catapults the athlete up in the air and with the goal of leaping over a bar and landing on a mat.

Senior pole vaulter Sarah Korn, who placed fourth at the TCU Invitational, said height can help a pole vaulter, but usually the better athletes have the same skills as a gymnast. She said her transition was easy because of her gymnastics background.

“The best pole vaulters are usually former gymnasts,” Korn said. “You have to have good body awareness to turn yourself upside down and be aware of where the bar is.”

Some of the daily training involves sprints, jumping over the bars, and work with medicine balls to strengthen the core, which Korn said is crucial to the event. Pole vaulters need to have a strong mentality as well.

“It is 90 percent mental,” Korn said. “It is a scary thing, so you have to be mentally tough.”

Sheffield said the coaching staff generally looks for very athletic people, but the event deals with more technical issues than any other event.

“They spend a lot more time learning how to pole vault,” Sheffield said. “They learn the mechanics of planting the pole and getting upside down are very specific to the event.”

Sheffield said the jumping portion of the team is getting better overall, but they are working hard to try getting the team to a higher level.

“It is an area we are desperately trying to improve, we want to have a little more depth on both the men and women’s side,” Sheffield said. “We are very strongly recruiting athletes for those particular event groups. We just have to get better.”

Feature photo: Freshman Jazmine Martin leaps high into the air during a track and field competition at TCU last Friday. Matin jumped 11.17 meters and finished 5th in the triple jump. Photo courtesy of Sarah Breuner

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