In many areas of my on and off track life, I would be considered a "traditionalist." I'm a child of the 50s & 60s and I still believe, for example, in adages like "The customer is always right", and "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!" My Mom taught me at age 4 that I should always open doors for women, let them enter rooms first, and allow them to be first to enter and exit elevators. I always walk down the sidewalk with my body between the street and the woman with whom I'm walking.
Traditions are great and oftentimes necessary or preferred, but there are activities in life, and in sports particularly, that need to evolve. Since my expertise is in my favorite sport of track & field, this is the area where I wish to point out places where the presentation or staging of events needs to improve and these changes should be considered immediately, because we're already decades late on making obvious improvements.
In this first of several installments on how to improve the presentation of field events, I'm going to address the horizontal jumps, that is, the long & triple jump.
In the horizontal jumps, the athlete has six attempts to achieve their best (longest) performance. The winner can be determined on any one of these six attempts. All manner of records can also be set in efforts one through six, providing the wind reading on the performance doesn't exceed 2.0 meters/second (4.474 mph).
All jumps are measured from the edge of an 8"-(20cm.) board that is closest to the landing area. Regardless of where the jumper plants their foot, all "fair" jumps are measured from this exact spot. So, it's not just jumping for the greatest horizontal distance, it's jumping for the greatest distance plus accuracy of the plant foot!
40% of all jumps in a typical championship or invitational long or triple jump competition are fouls. If there are 12 jumpers, this means that of the 60 attempts they take, roughly 25 of those jumps go unmeasured because the athlete plants their take-off foot past the board. That is a colossal waste of spectators' time and unnecessarily lengthens the competitions.
Here are my suggestions for how to make these great events more entertaining and ultimately more fan and television friendly.
First of all, measure the actual distance the athlete flies from where their plant foot last contacts the runway at take-off, to where the body first contacts the sand in the landing area.
We have the technology to accomplish this. It's been available in elevators and automatic garage doors for decades. Simply establish a 2' (60 cm.) "launch sector" where the precise take-off point can be determined by laser beam. There's already a "board cam" at all the major meets. That "point of view (POV)" camera provides the television commentators with a precise, instantaneous measurement of how far off the board's leading edge the jumper was at take-off.
What should we do with the board, you ask? By all means, keep it, but let's not fixate on that board as the place from which all great performances are measured. An attempt sounds good when the jumper has a successful "pop" off a traditional wooden board and it's still an important, visual reference as the athletes sprint down the runway at full speed.
Eliminating the need to plant as close to the edge of the board as possible frees the jumpers to focus their efforts on achieving the "longest" actual distance which will almost certainly lead to a higher quality of marks from all participants.
Over the course of our viewing lifetimes we've all seen great jumps invalidated because of an infinitesimal breach at the end of the take-off board, and just as many times, we've seen winning efforts where the jumper planted so far back that they didn't touch one splinter of the board.
My concept eliminates most of those unfortunate, time-wasting, yawn-producing, "what if?" performances with the introduction of my "launch sector" innovation. When the wind ebbs or surges, the precision of a jumper's adjustment to their starting point would no longer be as critical as it is now because the margin for error on any single jump is hugely expanded
Now that we've unshackled our long and triple jumpers from the need to push the envelope all the way to an unfortunate, long foul, in order to win the competition, let me streamline the event(s) further.
Due to the stat I quoted earlier, 40% of jumps in a championship or major invitational competition go unmeasured because of a board foul, I'm going to suggest something that might annoy my jumping brethren.
The horizontal jumps need to be reduced from six rounds to four. It has been done in some of the Diamond League meets already and is regularly applied to the shot put. But, I want to take that time-trimming idea one step farther. In my role as self-appointed field event czar, I declare that if a horizontal jumper actually records a traditional "foul", then that jumper has one of their subsequent jumps taken away as a result. In other words, if Jumper #1 comes down the runway for their first effort, actually plants their foot beyond the board, that effort is not measured and that jumper is passed in round #2, leaving only two more jumps to record a legal performance.
My goal is for there to be 0% fouls during any given long and triple jump competition.
At a World Championships or Olympics, where 12 jumpers normally qualify for the final, I propose that number be cut to 8 qualifiers, same as the number of lanes on the track, and that all 8 of those qualifiers get all 4 jumps in the final because a foul in round #1 would eliminate them from getting all four of their jumps. We'd be looking at a maximum of 32 trips down the runway in the entire competition instead of the 60 we have now.
Result? More intensity, more riding on each effort, in a more compact time frame. This would allow for an additional horizontal jump competition at an invitational meet because the time gained, through my event time-trimming approach, would free up the time necessary for an additional jumping event.
The main benefit would be more women's triple jump events being contested, an event where the U.S. has never placed a finalist in a World Championships and only one in an Olympic final in the past 18 years.
My opinions and suggestions on that depressing statistic to come later.
To review. To improve the quality of marks and the overall "watch-ability" of the long and triple jumps; create a 2' (60cm.) "launch sector" using laser beam technology, keep the board, reduce the number of efforts from six to four, and penalize a foul by taking away the offending jumper's next jump.
I know that these adjustments/enhancements will be unpopular with a lot of track & field purists. They'll say it's unfair to someone like former world record holder, Bob Beamon, who hardly ever hit the board during his career. Who knows how far he might have actually jumped if these innovations had been around in the 60s?
The desire to compare generations against each other has always been a popular discussion for the "traditionalists" in all sports. How many home runs would Babe Ruth have hit if managers changed pitchers as often in the 1920s as they do today? Ruth hit a lot of dingers off pitchers who only had the strength to lob the ball to the plate in the later innings of regular season games. That wouldn't happen today as pitching staffs are larger than they were in the 20s.
There are countless examples of how it's unfair to compare athletic generations. They're all exercises in futility and unresolvable questions, though it's always fun to wonder "what if?"
But those aren't sufficient reasons to resist innovation, change, or improvement. Track & field is the purest of sports, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't progress along with our mainstream sports contemporaries. It's a statistical fact that, as sport-entertainment, we're not growing in popularity. You need only see how few meets occupy the domestic calendar and the reduced crowds at most European venues where track (athletics) used to be second only to soccer (futbol) in global popularity during my career.
You'll hear me say it publicly and see it written repeatedly here, and elsewhere, as I develop this series of articles on how to make our sport more presentable. "Innovate or die!"