“No credence whatsoever should be given to recent unfounded speculation regarding possible changes to athletics’ programme within the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendations were passed at last week’s session, no details or specific proposals have yet been made by the IOC as to how they will be implemented.”
– Statement posted 12/15/14 on IAAF web site
A week ago Michael Gleeson, a sportswriter for the Australian newspaper The Age, broke the news that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was weighing recommendations to drop certain events from the Olympic Track and Field program. Gleeson’s report (http://www.theage.com.au/sport/athletics/bolt-from-the-blue-200-metres-10000-metres-and-shot-put-under-threat-at-olympics-20141210-1240lr.html) was based on information from Brian Roe, an athletics administrator and international technical official at the Olympic Games and World Championships. Roe had attended a meeting with “senior athletics people who are very significant in influencing policy matters,” at which five events were identified as the most likely targets for being changed or excluded. The events were the 10,000m, 200m, 20k walk, shot put, and triple jump.
The ensuing publicity no doubt prompted the IAAF’s statement on Tuesday.
It’s probably inevitable that if and when there are concrete proposals to monkey with the lineup of Olympic Track and Field events, there will be passionate defenders of the status quo, and equally passionate advocates for updating the program to reflect new realities. The basic problem is that Track and Field (or Athletics, as it is known in much of the world) accounts for 2200 athletes at the Olympic Games, or almost 20% of the total number of athletes. the IOC would like to add new Olympic Sports, but also realizes that the large number of athletes can’t continue to grow. Hence, a desire to streamline the event schedule to eliminate redundant or marginal events.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have this discussion, and I also recognize that events have been added or subtracted from the Olympic program over the years. In that sense, I’m not really a traditionalist. I like to think that I’m open to the possibility that changes can be good. Of course, I’m still a little annoyed that cross country was dropped from the Summer Olympics after the 1924 games, but I applaud the relatively recent inclusion of the steeplechase, 5000, 10,000, and marathon for women.
(As an interesting historical footnote, I believe that it was a mistake ever to include the 3000m for women — added in 1984 and then dropped in 1996 in favor of the 5000m. In addition to being a magnet for drug cheats, the Olympic 3000m gave us one of the most unfortunate Olympic moments of all time. Imagine how history might have been altered if there had been no 3000m at Los Angeles. Mary Decker and Zola Budd might never have become entangled. Budd might have entered, and won, the 5000m. But I digress…)
But where I’m really going with this, is that I will be quite sad if the triple jump becomes a casualty of IOC cost-cutting measures. The triple jump is one of the hidden gems of the field portion of Track and Field, an event both humble (it’s sometimes called the “hop, skip, and jump”) and refined, both plain and exquisite. It is also unbelievably demanding technically and notoriously hard on those who practice it.
You know what, before you read another word, watch this video of Jonathan Edwards setting consecutive world records at the 1995 World Championships.
As you can see from the video, when done at the highest level, the triple jump combines a sprinter’s speed, almost unbelievable hip extension and flexibility, absolute perfect conservation of posture, and foot contacts that control with breathtaking precision the immense ground contact forces. When done right, triple jumping is a wonder to behold. When done wrong, it is a hot mess.
I gained a new-found appreciation for the triple jump a few years ago when I coached an athlete who excelled at the event. She was strong and fast, but also, as an ex-gymnast, she had highly-developed postural control and coordination, as well as years of plyometric training. Basically, she was used to launching herself into space at frightening speeds. The first time she ever competed in the triple jump was her sophomore year in high school. I had asked her to try it in practice, and I thought she might have some success in the event. In her first competition, she finished second in the New England Championships. That was the first and last time that anyone beat her in high school competition. She’s jumping on college now, and last year, she came within a centimeter of qualifying for NCAA DIII Nationals, so there you go.
Speaking of high school, I also had the privilege of watching a series of great Newton North triple jumpers, including Carla Forbes, who made the World Junior team a few years back. Although there wasn’t always a lot of suspense, watching Forbes jump was always one of the highlights of the meet.
And finally, I have a confession.
As a high school athlete myself, I once competed in the triple jump. In those days, I still had pretty good jumping skills and I was also fairly coordinated. For some reason, my coach decided to throw me in the TJ one meet where I competed against my teammate, Anthony Glenn, the fastest guy on the team. Now Anthony was everything I was not: he was tall and ran like the wind. While I ran cross country in the fall, he played quarterback and was a captain of the football team. He was the closest thing to track and field royalty that we had. So on this particular day, he was also in the triple jump, having already won the long jump and soon to win the 100. To make a long story short, he couldn’t get his steps right, fouled at least once, and came away with a best jump of only 35-10. I on the other hand, managed to jump 36-2, which, come to think of it is my lifetime PB, and I beat him by four inches.
Maybe that story won’t be enough to sway the IOC when it comes to reviewing the program for the 2020 Tokyo games, but if the Lords of the Rings drop the triple jump, I will raise a glass in its honor, mourning the loss of a rare and beautiful thing.