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Soup of This Day #376: Stay In Motion

May 7, 2014

Phillips Idowu
It might look like there’s 2 of him but there really is only 1 Phillips Idowu. The UK athlete is pictured here at left during the ‘step’ or ‘skip’ phase of the triple jump, and then at right as he shapes to launch into the final ‘jump’. Idowu was the silver medallist at the 2008 Olympics, during which this sequence was imaged – Photo: Richard Giles, 2008. Richard Giles is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

The other day I saw a person skipping along the pavement.

This in of itself is not something I’d think was unusual. Wikipedia notes in it’s definition of skipping that it is:

‘The hippity-hoppity gait that comes naturally to children.’

Yep, the kids just love that natural ol’ hippity-hoppity gait.

Which is grand but this wasn’t a kid that I saw – It was a woman, who was young to be sure, but well past school-age. And she was skipping along the pavement, going from 1 place to another, seemingly in some sort of professional and not entirely natural capacity.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not being critical of this woman. Her skipping didn’t actually make her look worryingly strange – Instead, she radiated an endearing ebullience. That she was dressed in stylish and modern attire added to that effect – She had a sort of bouncy elegance.

Which is a little bit unusual and a fair bit of wonderful – She clearly had somewhere to be and had chosen skipping as the best way to get there. This is not for everyone or hardly anyone even. I don’t skip for instance – I generally prefer a controlled amble that combines low effort, medium return and a high level of comfort. If I’m in a good mood, my amble will roll along on oval wheels – A smooth double-jointed glide. If I’m in a bad mood then my feet will drag, seemingly never leaving the ground – The opposite of a skip. If I need to be somewhere faster then I can break out a run – The quicker I need to go, the longer I stretch out my stride.

This is pretty much the kind of movement you’ll see associated with sport – Running is the most efficient and direct way of getting from 1 point to another. Skipping just doesn’t seem to impart the required urgency, no matter how much of an ebullient or bouncy mood that you are in. Sure, you will sometimes see a skip as an evasive technique – Rugby wingers have been known to employ it on a burst down the flanks so as to confuse closing defenders for just long enough to break clear of a diving tackle. That though is using skipping as a ruse, rather than as a performance enhancement. Skipping is just not a regulation sporting move.

Except in the triple jump.

Yep, the triple jump is otherwise known as the hop, skip and jump, as this alternative accurately describes the phases of an attempt at this Olympic athletic event. – There’s a lead-up run before a vaulting hop that transitions into a skipping step and then a final leap that hopefully ends in soft sand. The whole is like a cross between hopscotch and long jump. Which, like skipping in general, sounds childish, but in reality, when completed correctly, triple jump has the same bouncy elegance as I witnessed from that woman.

It’s also a feat of extraordinary performance – The current women’s world record is 15.5m, while the men’s is 18.29m. To help with some perspective on those measurements, the average bus is around the 10m mark in length – That then is some serious hopscotch that Inessa Kravets and Jonathan Edwards have marked out.

So triple jumping is a serious business. It also happens to be a business in which Australians, and in particular 1 Anthony William Winter, once excelled.

Anthony, who was inexplicably known as Nick, represented Australia in Olympic triple jumping in the 1924 Paris edition. And as befitting such a serious event, Nick was a seriously natural sportsman. His bio spells this out clearly:

‘He loved any sport which required ‘nerve, skill, speed, stamina, strength and determination’, and played football, cricket, tennis and golf. He also enjoyed wrestling, single tug-of-war and cycling backwards, but the leaping events were his forte.’

Yep, Nick Winter was a genuine Aussie all-rounder, kicking goals, thwacking cover drives, belting forehand returns, driving long down the fairways and…

Wait…. Single tug-of-war?

I’m immediately thinking of 2 possibilities here: a. Nick tied ropes around trees and then pulled on them while mentally wrestling with humankind’s concept of ‘self’, or b. Nick didn’t tie the rope to anything and just ran around with it held triumphantly aloft while periodically screaming out, ‘winner, winner, chicken dinner.’

I’m feeling b. to be honest, mostly because that’s the kind of sense of humour I’d like to imagine a triple jumper has, but the reality could have figuratively gone either way – Unlike Nick’s solo tug-of-war which could have literally only gone the 1 way if he was putting in a proper effort.

And we haven’t yet dealt with the cycling backwards thing – Although we should, if only to answer the question: Did Nick turn himself about so as to face backwards while propelling the bike forwards? Or did he face forward while pedalling the bike backwards? Either has a high degree of quixotic difficulty and a certain amount of risk associated for nearby pedestrians that are unable to skip rugby-style smartly out of the way.

Yep, just like in ‘Game of Thrones’, people would have been fearful that Winter was coming. Or going – Honestly, it would have been hard to tell until it was too late.

Still, it’s impossible to laugh for long at Nick Winter, regardless of how he sat his bike. If he was still alive you could probably laugh with him, but hardly ever at him – He’d served in World War 1 and upon his return from that devastating conflict had become a fireman and an Olympian – Noble pursuits all.

His record in the latter category is impressive too – Nick Winter wasn’t just making up the numbers – He won the gold in 1924 for the triple jump with a distance of 15.525m, a then-world’s-best. Sadly that was as far as Winter would go in a sand-pit – He barely qualified for the 1928 Olympics and then failed to make the finals of the triple jump anyway. His world record did stand for 7 years though, before being broken by a succession of Japanese athletes.

That 1924 effort wasn’t just the best of Nick Winter either – No Australian since has won an Olympic gold at the triple jump, male or female. Jack Metcalfe did briefly hold the world record in 1936 but lost it at the Berlin Olympics of that year where he took out the bronze medal, while in 1948, George Avery won a silver medal, just 3.5cm adrift of gold.

Interestingly, that 1948 Avery effort was 15.365m – 16cm less and 24 years later than Nick Winter’s winning leap in 1924. Maybe George Avery should have added some solo tugging or backwards cycling to his training regime?

Perhaps the whole nation should – Since 1948 just 5 Australian men have qualified for an Olympic triple jump final. On the women’s runway meanwhile, not a single Australian has so much as qualified for the Olympics at all, let alone a final – In mitigation, the women’s triple jump has only been an event for the past 5 Olympics.

For 2016 though there is some hope – I’ve seen the future of Australian triple jumping and it was hippity-hopping along the pavement just the other day.

Wonder if she can cycle backwards too?

Stay In Motion

  1. Always been fascinated by the triple jump. Never mastered it as a youth and if I tried it today I would surely wind up hospitalized in some pretzel-like position.

    • The pros make it look graceful and easy on YouTube… So I gave it a quiet whirl in the name of research. I’m not quite a pretzel but that’s only because I ran out of steam in the hop phase. I think the world record is safe from the likes of me – Do feel like eating a salted pretzel now though…

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