21 July, 2018

Perchance, To Fly (Footwork, part 3)

The jumps are just like the throws, except this time, your goal is to fly. But just like with the throws, athletes combine specialized footwear with finely-honed footwork to make that magic happen.

All four jumping events share a pretty basic pattern: first you run, and then you jump. The four events break down into two major categories: the horizontal jumps (long jump and triple jump) and the vertical jumps (high jump and pole vault).

The horizontal jumps are all about taking a limited number of attempts and achieving the furthest distance from a set limit line ("the board"). As with the javelin, if you take off from past the board, you foul the jump and your distance doesn't count. But if you jump from behind the board, the room you leave to spare doesn't count toward your total. So the name of the game is to jump from as close to the edge of the board as you can, without going over.

The vertical jumps differ in that you have an unlimited number of attempts to jump as high as you can. You are eliminated from the competition after you miss three consecutive attempts. If you clear extra height over a low crossbar, that doesn't help your total — style points don't count — but if you pass to a height that you can no longer clear, then your last cleared height is your final measurement. So the risk-balancing aspect is still present, but it has more to do with fatigue and technical repetition than with the ability to hit a precise mark on the ground.

25 June, 2018

Power and Grace (Footwork, part 2)

The throws require a controlled kind of crazy.

For me, that's one trait that distinguishes them from the other event groups in track and field: you have to unleash the beast in an instant, but then you have to settle just as quickly. In every throwing event, there's a limited throwing area, and the athlete has to start and finish at rest, under their own power.

In practice, it tends to look like a raw explosion of energy to launch the implement, followed by a dance with the laws of physics to come back to a controlled stop.

Now as a reminder, I am not a thrower. I've watched and studied the events a fair bit, but some of my analysis could still be off the mark. With that said, this time, we'll dive into the footwork in three of the four outdoor throwing events, the hammer throw, shot put (two techniques), and javelin.

(Or click here to read the first part of the series, "Running and The Heel".)

31 May, 2018

Footwork: Running and The Heel (part 1)

Foot. Shoe. Ground.

One of the defining characteristics of track and field is the extent to which the athletes stay in close contact with the ground. Even in the field events, the ability to jump or throw effectively relies first and foremost on your ability to use the ground to your advantage.

As a result, the way that an athlete uses their feet has an overwhelming impact on how well they can apply their whole body to the demands of any particular event. And those footwork patterns vary by event, and often, even by athlete within a single particular event.

Now, I'm definitely not an actual biomechanist, but after 2 decades of track and field, I've noticed at least a few patterns. So when I went down to L.A. to cover the Mt. SAC Relays, I tried to spend some time capturing how the footwork in each event conveys a sense of each event's specific characteristics.

28 April, 2018

Slow, Fast, and Slow Again (Moments In Between, part 6)

The morning before the race is a period of acceleration, but it can feel just the opposite. Many teams start off with some amount of anxiety — a thousand tiny tasks remain before the car is "perfect," and it can still feel tempting to try to knock them all out in the dwindling moments before the green flag waves.

But once the race is underway, the mere fact that the car is out on track, turning laps, and away from convenient access makes a lot of those small issues seem to disappear. You're going faster than you were before, but that sense of being overwhelmed with tasks is replaced by a focus on the more singular task at hand — drive smooth, get good track position, run quick pit stops, don't break anything. You light the rocket, and then you do your best to get out of the way and let that baby burn.