August 5, 2012

The long jump

To the delight of the home crowd, the Olympic long jump was won by a red-haired Englishman named Greg Rutherford, whose great-grandfather was a prominent soccer player before WWI. Rutherford's winning leap of 27' 3.25" was the shortest gold medal leap since 1972. 

The long jump has a lot of mythology about it because its records are rarely broken. Jesse Owens' 1935 record lasted into the mid-1950s, Bob Beamon's 1968 record lasted until 1991, and the current record is 21 years old and is in no danger. Even lower level records sometimes last a long time. I can recall in the early 1970s hearing on the radio that a Southern California junior college long jumper had broken the national JuCo record that had been held since the late 1930s by Jackie Robinson. The future Brooklyn Dodger was the  long jump favorite heading toward the 1940 Olympics that got called off.

A few days ago, Josh Levin had an interesting article in Slate about why long jumping winning marks have fallen since the 1991 World Championship in Tokyo when Carl Lewis jumped 29' three times in a row and lost to Mike Powell's world record of 29'4", which broke Bob Beamon's famous 1968 record by a couple of inches.

In contrast, the men's 100m dash was broken as recently as 2009 by Usain Bolt.

Obviously, as Levin notes, better drug testing has brought long jumpers back to earth.

Also, it has become rare for the top 100m dash men to also long jump, the way Owens in 1936 and Lewis in 1984 won four gold medals by combining the 100m, 200m, 4x100m, with the long jump. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that local peculiarities matter a lot in famous records. Beamon broke the existing record by 22" at the Mexico City Olympics, and about half of that margin was due to the thin air at 7300 feet altitude. (It was still an astonishing leap, but lots of other long-lasting records were set in Mexico City due to the altitude.) 

In Tokyo in 1991, like in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 where Michael Johnson set a famous sprint record, the track surfaces were made super-hard to encourage records in the explosive events. (Hard surfaces are good for sprinters and long jumpers, bad for distance runners, who get beaten up by them.) Carl Lewis set a world record of 9.86 in the 100m, leading an unprecedented six runners across the finish line in under ten seconds. But, as Levin notes, 100m times have continued to fall because it's a glamor event with a fair amount of money involved, while the long jump has lost its glamor status. 

The long jump is really hard to do well. The ideal long jumper is both the world's fastest man (Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis), a great athlete, a technician, and a little lucky, too. Lewis was hardly an unlucky man overall, but he never held the long jump world record because Beamon and Powell had a little more luck at the perfect moments.

With the rare, storied exceptions of Jesse Owens v. Luz Long in 1936 and Lewis v. Powell in 1991, long jump competitions tend to be anti-climactic and frustrating for audiences. A lot of leaps turns out to be fouls and the standard practice is not even to measure fouls, such as on the legendary 1982 jump that Lewis claimed might have been 30 feet.

A typical anti-climactic performance is Lewis at the 1984 L.A. Olympics. He comes out, jumps 28 feet on his first try, then figures that in the cool damp L.A. night time air, nobody else is going to come within a foot of that and he needs to conserve energy for the rest of his busy schedule. So he packs it in for the night to boos from instant experts who wanted him to pursue Beamon's record (even though Lewis was likely a lot better judge of what he was capable of at the moment than anybody else in the Coliseum). 

28 comments:

Severn said...

as Levin notes, 100m times have continued to fall because it's a glamor event with a fair amount of money involved

I'm not sure why some events are "glamor events" and others are not. It sometimes seems as if a "glamor event" is one in which a US athlete has a good chance of winning the gold. There's no obvious reason why the 100m dash ("the worlds fastest man") gets so much more attention than the weightlifting events ("the worlds strongest man").

jose said...

And the women's long jump was one by a white blonde woman.

The long jump physique and the sprinter physique seem to have diverged. The long jumpers all are very lean -- presumably to minimize weight. While the sprinters are increasingly jacked looking.

Bolt is leaner, and better, than the other sprinters, but he still looks much more muscular than the long jumpers do.

The female long jumpers were also very long and lean compared to the muscled female sprinters.

Also -- could the pounding from sprint training be increasing bone density of the sprinters? I imagine the ideal long jumper has plenty of muscle, but the bone density of a bird. Would mild osteoperosis actually help a long jumper?

Steve Sailer said...

"The long jump physique and the sprinter physique seem to have diverged."

Right. It's hard for me to remember how surprising it was when Ben Johnson emerged in 1987 hauling this absurd amount of upper body musculature down the 100m track to a world record. Before then, everybody just knew that long and lean was the ideal physique for both a sprinter and a long jumper.

jody said...

"Rutherford's winning leap of 27' 3.25" was the shortest gold medal leap since 1972"

everybody was jumping into negative wind, so it was hard to jump very far. cool, rainy, windy london is not a great place for track & field historically.

"Jesse Owens' 1935 record lasted into the mid-1950s, Bob Beamon's 1968 record lasted until 1991, and the current record is 21 years old and is in no danger."

owen's long jump record was a great one. he was less great as a sprinter. still the best of his era but not so fast that nobody else was even close, they were.

all the records from the 1968 olympics should just be pretty much ignored due to the elevation. it made all the short races fast and all the long races slow. that screwed up track & field for 20 years.

carl lewis is the best long jumper of all time. but that was during the drug era, so even he's slightly suspect.

the high jump record is from the same seemingly frozen in time period, the early 90s, when most of the field records were set. and it was set by a caught juicer. so the long jump record is likely a drug record too, unfortunately.

"And the women's long jump was one by a white blonde woman."

that was the triple jump. but a european might win long jump too. it's possible europeans will win the long jump, high jump, and triple jump in london.

it's important to remember that whites can't jump, however.

jody said...

"But, as Levin notes, 100m times have continued to fall because it's a glamor event with a fair amount of money involved, while the long jump has lost its glamor status."

well, sort of. he's right that there is no money in the field events, so the international field is not as good in the field events as the track events. the participation rate is lower relatively speaking. it's not low, just not as good as it could be. the diamond league is an attempt to change this, with 1 million dollars available to anybody who wins their event at every meet for the season.

but now you have a stupid situation like the one i've been following in football, where the united states sends 3 africans, always 3 africans, to almost every world championship and olympic championship, and sometimes they end up getting beat by guys like rutherford and mitchell watt - genetically english guys from nations much smaller than the US. so a guy from scotland and a guy from australia can outjump the best africans from the US, but not a single european from the US can even make the team? there's 200 million europeans in the US and only 55 + 20 = 75 or so million europeans in the UK and australia. the US is now deliberately ignoring, or perhaps, deliberately not developing, a huge talent pool, the same way it does in american football.

the culture in the US today is to tell europeans in sports that "You can't do it" but to tell africans in academics "You can do it!". i think everybody should be encouraged to do well. yet, again i note that it's always the europeans who are singled out for a sustained negative psychological campaign, while other groups have billion dollar federal government programs created from scratch, explicitly to encourage and support and develop their group. it's frustrating watching this happen.

also like i've said, if you take africans from the US out of sports, "black athletic domination" mostly goes away. you end up with a decent amount of africans in track, less in field, and they drop precipitously in other sports. black athletic domination is dependent primarily on africans from america.

jose said...

I still want to see an explanation for why the east asians do so well in the ultra-precision sports - badminton, ping pong, shooting, archery, diving, gymnastics.

If there's a sport that requires either:
1) Be extremely still
2) Extreme, but confined, hand-eye coordination
3) Extremely precise and repeated body motions.

then it seems east asians would be good at it.

Greenidge said...

Mr Rutherford is the greatest stereotype shatterer since Pietro Mennea and Arthur Ashe.

Anonymous said...

also like i've said, if you take africans from the US out of sports, "black athletic domination" mostly goes away. you end up with a decent amount of africans in track


Well, no. If you take the black West-African Americans out of the 100m sprint, what you are left with is black West Africans from other countries. Both the men's and women's 100 meter race in the current Olympics were won by Jamaicans, not Americans.

Anonymous said...

There's no obvious reason why the 100m dash ("the worlds fastest man") gets so much more attention than the weightlifting events ("the worlds strongest man").

Simple races in real time do seem more appealing to people.

Anonymous said...

I still want to see an explanation for why the east asians do so well in the ultra-precision sports - badminton, ping pong, shooting, archery, diving, gymnastics.

It could just be shorter stature and limbs that helps in games where the court is smaller.

cherly boston said...

An exceptionally remarkable performance was Galen Rupp's silver in the 10,000m. He beat out all of the Kenyans and Ethiopians, finishing second to a British-born Somali.

Anonymous said...

I still want to see an explanation for why the east asians do so well in the ultra-precision sports - badminton, ping pong, shooting, archery, diving, gymnastics.

It could just be shorter stature and limbs that helps in games where the court is smaller.


Larger cerebellums (cerebella?)
So why are they such bad drivers?

Anonymous said...

Sailer manages to turn a story about whites winning the gold and silver in long jump, with the black only getting the bronze, into a complicated tale about, "you see, it's really these other blacks in the past that have set records, and long jump isn't that glamorous or important anymore anyway (just like boxing, etc.) so you see, in the end, the black studs still dominate"

US Boxing WTH? said...

What happened to the US Boxing Team in London?

Beijing 2008 was the worst US Boxing team in Olympic history with only 1 bronze medal.

London 2012 could be even worse with only 1 of 9 US boxers surviving beyond the initial Round of 16 or 32. If he doesn't win at least the next 2 fights, I think the US will come home with 0 boxing medals.


http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1285400-london-2012-raushee-warren-usa-boxings-crisis-and-more-olympic-impressions

Anonymous said...

You know Steve lots of black long jumpers have won since 1991 in international competition and not gotten close to Powell and Lewis' 1991 numbers either. I think the big long jumper later in the late 1990's early 2000's was Ivan Pedroso, a black Cuban dude who had the good fortune to jump in sunny, Mediterranean Sydney and Athens and not cold rainy and head winded London. That might explain the shorter jumps at this Olympics as well.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/track-and-field/highlights-pole-vaulting-bloopers.html

the wrong jump

MC said...

"Lewis was hardly an unlucky man overall, but he never held the long jump world record because Beamon and Powell had a little more luck at the perfect moments."

If Mike Powell were really lucky "at the perfect moments," he would have taken one of Lewis' four Olympic gold medals in the long jump.

CJ said...

"Before then, everybody just knew that long and lean was the ideal physique for both a sprinter and a long jumper."

At the time (1988) Ben Johnson actually reminded me of a severely-roided-up version of 1964 Olympic champion Bob Hayes.

Londoner said...

Severn: "I'm not sure why some events are "glamor events" and others are not."

I think the racial group that tends to dominate a given event has almost everything to do with whether it's a glamour event or not.

Farah and Ennis are media darlings here and have dominated the athletics coverage. Rutherford - well who cares about him really. White athletics champions are invisible and instantly forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Simple races in real time do seem more appealing to people


And yet I notice that the other sports which do seem appealing to people are things like gymnastics or volleyball, which are not simple races in real time.

pat said...

So why are they such bad drivers?

In the Bay Area the prejudice against Chinese driving is firmly established. It's called DWC. Driving while Chinese.

I have a personal insight. When I first came to California I worked as a driving instructor at a place called International Driving School. Our competitive advantage was that we taught driving in multiple languages including Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese.

The owner spoke Portuguese and we had one Spanish speaking instructor and one Chinese speaker. But I - who can only manage English - seemed to get all the non-English speaking students.

Bob Newhart used to do a comic routine about being a driving teacher. He should have tried teaching it in a foreign language. That's funny.

At this time there was a major scandal in the papers about an outfit called the Chinese Driving School. It seems they had planted a guy in the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Chinese students would make some sign or signal in the DMV office and the student would get his license. In fact the office would funnel these Chinese only speakers to the planted accomplice. He was the only one on staff who spoke Chinese.

I had a Chinese student who spoke decent English but who after only three lessons confronted me with the charge that I was wasting his time. He wanted me to simply sell him a driving license. I told him I couldn't do that and besides he couldn't drive. He was terrible. That argument didn't impress him. He left in a huff. He was indignant that I was fixated on trivialities - like actually being able to drive.

I only once taught a Japanese woman. She seem to take driving as a serious responsibility. So I think it's cultural not genetic. At the time we used to tell new students that it took a month and mechanic's exam to get a driving license in Japan. The Japanese seemed to revere automobiles and respect the process of learning to drive.

In the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden dragon the villainess is guilty of reading the secret texts that explain how to do Kung Fu. Think about that. The Chinese thinks that fighting skill is a scholarly pursuit. But they don't seem to think driving a car merits even simple practice.

Maybe that now that the Chinese are getting off their bikes and into cars they will change their attitude toward learning to drive.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

I only once taught a Japanese woman. She seem to take driving as a serious responsibility. So I think it's cultural not genetic. At the time we used to tell new students that it took a month and mechanic's exam to get a driving license in Japan. The Japanese seemed to revere automobiles and respect the process of learning to drive.

I was the one who posted the above comment. You're right, it probably is cultural. Asians do have a (stereotyped) reputation for precision, manual dexterity, and martial arts proficiency. I also read somewhere that Asians have the largest cerebellum size relative to total brain size. But there is also the Bad Driver Repution....

That's probably also a third world thing - if you're rich enough to drive, you're rich enough to bribe someone for a license. Japan is first world; and the Japanese American community is well-integrated into America.

Maybe that now that the Chinese are getting off their bikes and into cars they will change their attitude toward learning to drive.

Even getting off their bikes and onto motorbikes will help.

randolph said...

"Obviously, as Levin notes, better drug testing has brought long jumpers back to earth."

Serious question here - would drugs really significantly improve a long-jumper's performance?

I note that when people talk about all those virtually unbreakable women's athletics world records from the steroid-tainted 80s, they often include Galina Chistyakova's 7.52m long jump record. But she looked a lot more natural to me than some of the other athletes from that era.

Steve Sailer said...

I'm kind of leaning away from the PED explanation. Or to be precise, that Ben Johnson showed that a massive upper body could pay off in the 100m, which drove a wedge between the 100m and the long jump, where lankiness, like a young Carl Lewis (pre Ben Johnson) pays off.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed that American decathlete Ashton Eaton jumped 8.23 at the Olympic trials in Eugene(where he also set the world record for decathlon). That would have been good enough for silver in London. It was also the same that American bronze medalist Will Claye jumped at the trials. Perhaps our best long jumper is a decathlete!

Hacienda said...

"Ben Johnson showed that a massive upper body could pay off in the 100m, which drove a wedge between the 100m and the long jump, where lankiness, like a young Carl Lewis (pre Ben Johnson) pays off."

This could be tested if Usain Bolt seriously tried the long jump.
He's between Lewis and Johnson in terms of bulkiness.

Significantly faster than Lewis, but would his extra mass be too much a burden?

Assuming equal training and skill as Lewis, I'd guess he could have still have won the gold in London, but not get beyond 29 feet. For Bolt, that's probably not flashy enough to dedicate himself to.

Anonymous said...

Before then, everybody just knew that long and lean was the ideal physique for both a sprinter and a long jumper.

I noticed that the 110m hurdlers look a lot leaner than the regular sprinters. They look like sprinters used to look back in the day.

I wonder if there's less benefit to juicing in the hurdles. Perhaps it's because you have to be nimble, and you can't just power through a straight course.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there's less benefit to juicing in the hurdles. Perhaps it's because you have to be nimble, and you can't just power through a straight course.

I would think so too.

There's no way of "juicing" your cerebellum, other than by endless practice of a motor skill.