SI Vault
 
The flip that led to a flap
Ron Reid
July 29, 1974
The sport's august officialdom is alarmed by a new long-jumping technique that could endanger a few necks—and the 30-foot barrier
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July 29, 1974

The Flip That Led To A Flap

The sport's august officialdom is alarmed by a new long-jumping technique that could endanger a few necks—and the 30-foot barrier

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In contrast, Ecker points out that the flip enables the jumper to take off from the board almost at full speed and at a more desirable higher angle. When he tucks and rolls into a somersault, wind resistance is cut. And since rotation is working with him rather than against him, his feet will land—assuming correct execution—well ahead of his body, and the latter should follow on through so that he does not fall back in the pit. In practice, the hardest part of the new technique to learn is landing. "Wiping out in the flip," Delamere says painfully, "is coming down butt first." To preclude that dire end, the East Germans reportedly have theorized that a half-twist should be added to the flip so that the jumper lands facing the board.

Few things in sport prove as easy in competition as on paper, and the flip is no exception. While the dynamics of the new technique may satisfy the laws of physics, the danger factor is at least a worrisome possibility. A flip long jumper is not going to land in a foam-rubber pit, as does a flop high jumper or a fiberglass pole vaulter. What if he hesitates a moment too long before going into his tuck? What if his ankle gives slightly as he takes off from the board? What about the "fear factor"—getting up enough nerve to try the flip the first time?

Both Ecker and the jumpers using the flip deny it is dangerous. "I don't think there's any danger at all," Ecker says. "About the worst a guy could do would be to land on his behind. As for fear, it's like the pole vault. You'd never get me to hang upside down 18 feet up in the air on a bent pole, yet there are kids who do it with no trouble at all."

Washington State's assistant track coach, Rick Sloan, who taught himself the flip in order to coach it, says, "It is a frightening experience that first time. Jumping conventionally, you can see where you're going. With the flip, you're blind through most of the jump. You see a little grass, a little sky and no sand until the very end. But I can't imagine how you could mess it up so badly that you'd land on your neck, if you practice it first on the soft pads of a pole-vault pit. I don't think it's as dangerous as the flop. Remember the talk about kids breaking their necks when that first started?"

At the NCAA meet, the flu made a flop of Delamere's flip but in the Pacific-8 Conference meet three weeks earlier he somersaulted 25'6�" to tie the Olympic champion, USC's Randy Williams. Observing the unorthodox technique of his rival, Williams said, "I like it. He's relaxing at the top of his jump. While we're working for every extra little bit, he's just worried about landing."

Delamere is a 6'2", 166-pound senior who has run 100 meters in 10.7 and, by his own admission, is no great tumbler. "I had never tried a somersault before this," he says. "I've never even tried one off a diving board into a swimming pool. I'd be too scared."

Delamere is convinced that his potential with the flip is much greater than his personal best (a wind-aided 25'9�") using the customary style. "I'm sure I can go 28 feet with it," he says. "When I'm 100% healthy, my takeoff is O.K. I've got to perfect my landing. No one really paid attention to this thing until now because the guys who had been experimenting with it weren't very good jumpers to begin with. I'm the first genuine long jumper who's tried it. I think I can go a lot farther with it, and others can do even better. What you need is a guy with 9.5 speed and good gymnastics ability."

Because of its potential, the flip is claiming more converts all the time. From the mail he has received asking for information, Ecker estimates that hundreds of jumpers are now flipping, most at the high school level. Even decathlon men have taken to it.

Whatever its ultimate fate, there is no denying that the flip is more fun to watch, and that the long jump, often one of the least-noticed events in track and field, could become one of the most popular. All that seems needed now is for a few top jumpers to adopt the technique, skill themselves in it and win, say, an Olympic gold medal. When that happens, a lot of coaches will be advising their young jumpers to go take a flying flip.

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