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Athletics fans have all seen it and it is tiresome. At many meets, long jump athletes clear a personal best, or regional or meet record. Or perhaps the athlete jumps as far as a new national or international record but overstepped the long jump board by millimetres. Sometimes these distances are better than the amount that the athlete overstepped. Overstepping the board results in a foul and a “no jump,” is declared by trackside officials.

Anti-climatic.

Every jump should count

Running 25 to 30-plus kilometres per hour and attempting to nail the landing and push-off from a 20-centimetre (8-inch) synthetic or wood board has nothing to do with the speed, power, or agility of the athlete in relation to his or her leap. The board is a distraction and a time vamp. At broadcasted meets, the camera crews hope to help build drama with shots of athletes landing and toeing off the board. The drama should be manifested in the landing — in how far the athlete flew. Every jump should count.

Canada’s Crystabel Nettey jumping at the 2019 Harry Jerome Track Classic. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

As the Diamond League has looked at paring events from their professional meets, some have suffered, but the broadcasts are shorter and tidier; consumable. With all athletes in the mix until the final jump, the drama would build throughout and to the end. Perhaps a proposed change will grow interest in the niche event.

World Athletics proposes a change

World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon revealed plans to trial a new format for the long jump.

The trial would see the take-off board replaced by a take-off zone. The length of the jump would then be measured from the zone take-off point to the landing in the sand.

Ridgeon says that data from the 2023 Budapest World Athletics Championships indicates that one-third of the jumps were fouls and declared no-jumps. This was due to athletes overstepping the board. Ridgeon recommends that a new proposal will add the needed drama.

Field events are competitions that were derived from war. Implements like javelin, hammer throw, discus, and shotput were about attacking from a distance. The high jump, and pole vault were for clearing walls and barriers and the long jump was a skill for clearing streams and crevasses. These events were first organized for the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece.

The long jump has evolved

It was believed at one time that while sprinting, the long jumper should carry a weight in each hand and toss it behind them while in the air as this would create forward momentum. That idea was eventually tossed for obvious reasons.

During the early years of the long jump, there was no sand pit. This is a modern invention. The area for landing was a skamma which is Greek for “dug up area.” The weights were called halteres. The athlete would swing the weights forward, then backward in the air for “momentum.”

Halteres were essentially dumbells made of stone.

Purists might put up a fight with the proposed change to the long jump. Traditionally, there are five parts to the long jump. There is the approach run, the final two strides, takeoff, action in the air, and the landing. Speed in the run-up, or approach, and a high leap off the board determine distance. Speed is the most important component, however, how the athlete takes off is vital. Having the freedom to land and push off from wherever (within a zone), should bring drama to the event as spectators can focus on the distance alone. This should allow greater athletic progress.

Middle and long-distance running events greatly benefit from super shoes and super spikes. Changes are continually being made in many other sports to advance them for spectator interest. Also, javelin throwers have a runway 4m (13ft) wide and at least 30m (98ft) in length.

High jumpers, for example, have much more freedom from where to jump from. The decision is based on how best to jump for maximum height. The long jump may be held back by ancient ideas. During war, the decision of where to leap over a creek or ravine would be based on how best to make it to the other side. That is how the long jump should be — up to the athlete to attack each jump with the freedom to jump as they will.

But will it fly?

Speaking to the Anything But Footy podcast, Ridgeon was talking about the long-jump change as part of a wider plan by World Athletics to grow and modernize sports, especially field events.

He explained that the long-jump innovations would be tested in real life and acknowledged that any potential changes will not be “without some controversy.”

“We’re also going to spend this year testing it in real-life circumstances with very good athletes, and if it doesn’t pass testing we’ll never introduce it,” Ridgeon said.

“If you’ve dedicated your life to hitting that take-off board perfectly then suddenly we replace it with a take-off zone, I totally get that there might be initial resistance but, as I said, as long as it’s based on good testing and good data I think eventually it’ll work through.

“But it will not be without its controversy, you cannot make change in a sport that was basically invented 150 years ago without some controversy.”

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