SE: USA Track and Field Comes to K-State

K-State head coach Cliff Rovelto tutors some of the best high jumpers in the world.

June 1, 2012

This feature was apart of the Friday edition of the K-State Sports Extra.

By Mark Janssen

On an otherwise lazy afternoon in May, two of America’s top three or four high jumpers were at Kansas State’s R.V. Christian Track.
There was Jesse Williams, the 2011 World Champion; there was Erik Kynard, the 2011 NCAA Champion. Both are pupils of K-State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto.
On this day they were being film by Jim Becker of the USA Track and Field sports science staff.
“When you get two jumpers of that caliber in one place, we come to them,” said Becker, who has been a part of the Motion Analysis Laboratory on the campus of the University of Oregon.  “We started using biomechanics a number of years ago in the sprints, but now we have individuals assigned to every event.”
In this case, Becker defines what he does as “… the study of human movement and the forces causing those movements.”
With the major events of the NCAA Championships next week and the U.S. Track and Field Trials for the Olympic Games coming up on June 21-July 1, this initial filming was more for a baseline that can be used as a comparison after the two are filmed at major events later this year.
“We want more than one snap shot of an athlete doing what he does,” said Becker, who says the top eight to 10 will be filmed in each event at the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, later this month.

“After analyzing each athlete, a report will be done and then there will be a Summit in the fall to release the information.”
On this initial filming session, Rovelto said, “It’s not so much learning anything, but it can confirm some things.  With cameras always in the same place, you know you’ll always be comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.
“Normally, you only see filming done at major competitions, which is fine, but it will be interesting to compare that to what they do in practice,” said the Wildcat coach, who last fall coached the U.S. Pan American team.
Williams is a 29-year-old product of USC.  His world title won in 2011 was the first for an American jumper since 1996.  In the last five years, he has been ranked in the Top 10 in the world, which includes first in 2011, second in 2010 and third in 2009.  His personal best is 7-9¼.
Kynard, a Wildcat junior and two-time Big 12 outdoor champion, currently ranks as America’s top collegian and as the fourth best overall jumper in the U.S.  He recently won the Big 12 and NCAA West Regional gold medal with modest clearances of 7-3 and 7-2½ , which was shy of his all-time best and K-State record of 7-7¾ .
Williams is only 6-foot in height, which means he’s clearing a bar that is 21 inches over his head.  He calls himself more of a “strength jumper.”  Kynard stands 6-foot-4, and by comparison, would use more finesse.
While neither has a wow-type vertical jump – Williams says his is 32 inches and Kynard says his is 28 inches – as Becker explains, “Your vertical jump doesn’t determine how high you might jump.  It’s converting horizontal velocity to vertical velocity.”
The key, according to Becker, is that elite high jumpers are running 7.5 to 8.0 meters per second when they stick their plant foot.  By comparison, a long jumper covers 8 to 9 meters per second, while a top-flight sprinter is at the 9 to 10-plus meters per second.  As Becker says, “Even high jumpers are moving right along.”
Becker, who is not only focusing on sports performance but also preventing injuries, will film each jumper with a pair of cameras that can slow action down to 300 frames per second “… to see the exact body position and body speed.  Slowing action down that much, we can put actual numbers to a position and a speed to the approach.”
Becker calls himself “a fairly poor” high jumper during his days at Middleberg College, a Division III school located in Vermont.  But even then he says, “I understood the concepts of jumping high, but I just couldn’t do it.”
Now he’s studying the event even more starting with the straight approach that turns into a flat-footed curve, and finally having a properly aligned posture before the plant.
“Once you’re in the air, your flight path has been determined,” said Becker.  “You might be able to do some small things once you’re in the air, but what you’re not going to do is generate any more velocity once you leave the ground.”