Surprising High Jump Lessons at the Track Meet

I high jumped for about nine years, from age 10 to age 19. I was never all that great at it, but I loved the sport and I learned a lot. Now that I’m older, I’ve been having a great time coaching middle school jumpers. (Above is one of the jumpers at a practice.)

What I am not having is a great time dealing with the people running the meets.

At the first meet I attended, the woman running the event had never been taught how to run an event. I explained to her what the starting height was, that the bar only goes up (and not back down), and that jumpers could opt to pass at any height they chose.

To her credit, the woman took my advice, especially after I explained that when kids are competing in multiple events, they need to come and go from time to time — just as one of our jumpers was trotting away to compete in the 100m.

That’s the kind of discussion I was happy to have. It was the woman’s first time running that event, I got her up to speed, the event went smoothly. Besides, it’s middle school, and many of these kids are trying these sports for the first time, and the meets are run with the kind help of volunteers.

The next meet was an invitational, an all-day affair with schools from as far away as Seattle (we’re in Portland). It was a much bigger affair: There were people running the competition, and so many competitors that they had to jump in two flights: if you were in the first flight it was like a time trial, where you had to post your best mark and hope no one beat it.

The guy running the event worked for the school, and he was not lacking in confidence. He brought all the jumpers in the first flight into a circle and in clear, unambiguous terms, he explained the rules. One of which was, “If you exit the pit by climbing back under the bar, you are disqualified.”

Wait, what? In all my time jumping, from pokey all-comers meets to the city finals in high school, no one had ever mentioned that one.

Well, whatever. The first flight went smoothly, although I did have to explain to the guy marking attempts on a clipboard that jumpers could pass at heights. And sometimes they might pass multiple heights, so you don’t have to keep calling their name.

This came up in the second flight, when I told them we had a jumper who was competing in another event, and wouldn’t start until 4’6″ (the starting height was 4′). Nonetheless, they kept calling his name, and I kept going over and saying he was going to pass.

One of our jumpers is really good, and set the school record this spring. There was a good chance he’d be one of the top competitors, which is why I wanted him to pass heights, because one of the tiebreakers for first place is the fewest total number of missed jumps.

The second flight was more competitive. Our team’s jumper was vying with another jumper for first place. When the bar reached 5′, our jumper approached on a jump, and at the last second, bailed out. He stopped, and as he did, his shoulder went under the bar.

The meet director called him over, and said it was a missed jump because he “broke the plane.”

Hold on. That’s a rule in football, to determine a touchdown. That’s not a rule in high jumping. I thought the rule in high jumping was —

Before I could get over to where they were talking, our jumper was back in position, looking a little rattled. But he cleared the height.

I was a little rattled too. What did he mean, “broke the plane”? Had that become a rule since I stopped jumping?

No, it turns out: It’s only if the jumper “Touches the ground or landing area beyond the plane of the crossbar, or the crossbar extended, without clearing the bar.”

As it turned out, our jumper came in second on height, so the number of misses didn’t matter.

What does matter is that the meet director got one rule wrong — and worse, he simply made up another one. The US Track and Field rules for high jump make no mention of where you climb out of the pit, and as I quoted above, you have to touch something past the plane of the bar for it to count as a miss. If the jumper’s feet broke the plane, it would be a miss because they touched the ground. But it wasn’t his feet, it was his shoulder, which touched nothing. That sounds like a minor point, until one miss separates first from second place, and then it isn’t.

So if everyone’s learning, what are the lessons?

  • For me, it was, put a copy of the rules in my backpack, so I can pull them in case someone gets it wrong.
  • For that meet director, it’s read the damn rules, and follow them.
  • And for the kids, the lesson might be that everyone makes mistakes, even adults who sound like they know what they’re talking about. Sometimes all you can do is shake it off and just keep jumping.

World Curling Injury Report

Name: Ulsrud Bjork
Position: Skip, Norway
Injury: Slipped on the hack and twisted his ankle. Strained right rotator cuff after throwing a beer bottle at his friend for laughing at his “so-called curling injury.”
Game Status: Uncertain (depends on supply of borrowed Vicodin)

Name: Stewart Ainsley
Position: Vice, Scotland
Injury: Anti-slider slid off foot; massive groin strain.
Game Status: Doubtful

Name: Borislav Todor
Position: Second, Bulgaria
Injury: Sheepskin chafing
Game Status: Probable

Name: Wally McDermond
Position: Second, England
Injury: Drinking injury
Game Status: Detox

Name: Fogdal Kierkegaard
Position: Lead, Denmark
Injury: A back to back bonspiel and funspiel proved too much for the saturnine Dane, who began treatment for clinical depression.
Game Status: Gametime decision (malaise)

Name: Graham Bemidji
Position: Vice, USA
Injury: Unspecified hog line injury
Game Status: Out

Name: Donald Pattermann
Position: Skip, Canada
Injury: Attempted a “Manitoba tuck.” Surgery will attempt to repair bulging disk.
Game Status: Out

Name: Peteris Finks
Position: Second, Latvia
Injury: Viņa akmens wa s izmet ar konkrētu pagrieziena, bet tas galu galā apstājās un sāka griezt pretējā virzienā. Lai gan tas parasti ir rezultāts izvēlēties vai sliktu ledus apstākļos, tas kaut kā izraisīja nenoteiktu rokas traumu.
Game Status: In translation

Major League Baseball Stadiums Debut “Grand Slam of Gluttony” Clubs

BALTIMORE — When Manny LeGros went to watch a recent Orioles baseball game, he spent much of it in the concourse instead of in his seat. Because that’s where the buffet was. With a ticket to the Orioles’ Left Field Club Picnic Perch, LeGros was entitled to an all-you-can-eat buffet of nachos, hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, lemonade, sodas and ice cream.

He could have stayed in his seat and watched the game in person — that’s the reason millions of people go to see baseball in the first place — but the lure of a third bucket of nachos proved too difficult to resist.

Baltimore Orioles fans like Manny LeGros eat as many buckets of nachos with chili as they can during a nine-inning game. Gorging yourself on food "is how you show you're a real fan," LeGros says.

“I’m closer to the food from here,” LeGros explained. “I wish someone would bring food to my seat on a conveyor belt so I don’t have to walk at all.”

The left-field sections at Camden Yards are part of the growing trend of all-you-can-eat style options in major league ballparks. For $40 per ticket in the section, fans are entitled to a buffet-style choice that includes all the above-mentioned foods and even salad — but only to mitigate the heartburn from the chili.

“Here’s the situation,” LeGros said. “The Red Sox, the Yankess, those are competitive teams. The Orioles are 33 games below .500. If the team’s gonna suck donkey balls, why shouldn’t I stuff my face?”

LeGros uses a sickly appropriate baseball metaphor when admitting he eats “double to triple” the amount of food that he would if it were not being shoveled out of bottomless troughs.

“I mostly go for the hot dogs,” he said. “They have cold stuff like ice cream. I’ve had a bunch of the ice cream. Oh, I tried one thing of salad too, because last year they didn’t have a salad. But I didn’t finish it. It’s nice that they’re trying for healthier stuff, but I’m at a ballpark.”

LeGros said he wants to take a road trip to Cleveland, where the Indians promote their all-you-can-eat section on their website with the opening tagline of, “How much food can you eat?” while offering fans a chance to “test their limitations.” He also wants to visit Detroit, and buy a ticket to “Trough of the Tigers,” where hungry Tigers fans eat nachos and ice cream out of “bottomless” metal trenches.

The all-you-can-eat trend worries some critics, like the American Medical Association, which notes that nearly 34 percent of all American adults and 17 percent of children are obese. Given America’s epidemic of obesity, they also question whether it is socially responsible for teams to set up these all-you-can-eat sections.

But baseball executives like Ed Pattermann believe that having a legion of overeating fans gives them a business advantage — even, perhaps, an edge on the field.

“Baseball teams can fatten their margins with a suite of ancillary services catering to the morbidly obese,” Patterman said. “These people will need a valet service, help getting out of their car, electric scooters, assistance getting to their seats — their super-size seats, which we can sell at a premium. Often they’ll need medical assistance at the ballpark, which is why we’re opening an Orioles medical clinic under the right-field bleachers.”

In addition to noting that the fatter fans are, the harder they’ll find it to travel to distant ballparks, Pattermann also notes one exciting plan the ball club plans to debut next season.

“When we crunched the numbers, we found that when our players dive into the stands after pop fouls, their injuries cost us millions in lost playing time,” Pattermann said. “If we pack the first two rows of seats with fat people — we’ll auction off the privilege of sitting there to our fattest and most affluent fans — their huge girth will act as cushions. If those worthless human cattle can cushion just one or two landings a year, that’s a huge difference in the amount of productivity we can wring out of a ballplayer.”

For Barbara and Steve Zaftig of Cockeysville, Md., the gluttony seats are the place to get the most value out of their trips to the park. “Everything is overpriced in ballparks,” Barbara Zaftig said. “The hot dogs are $5. The sodas are $6. Even the pretzels, are overpriced. It’s good that you don’t have to deal with any of that.”

When asked about the irony of going all the way to a professional baseball game only to ignore the highly trained professional athletes in favor of a bargain restaurant, Steve Zaftig scoffed. “No it’s better. No one wants to battle a 600 lb. man like me to catch a foul ball. Besides, eating less is un-American. It’s, like, socialist or something.”

The Problem with Indoor Volleyball

I’ve been somewhat quiet lately, because I’ve been gorging on the Olympics. But the coverage of indoor volleyball continues to bug me.

For some reason, TV coverage consistently shoots volleyball action this way:

True, the horizontal court is visible on your horizontal TV screen, but if you want to see the interesting stuff, you’re out of luck. From this shot all we can see who’s hitting, and how far the ball is away from the net.

Now check two views from different angles:

An end or angle view let’s you see where the hitter is relative to the block, what the block looks like, how high the hitter is hitting, and where the hitter is hitting (around the block? over it? through it?).

The most interesting part of indoor volleyball is what’s happening at the net, not the back court. But it’s shot at the worst possible angle to see it!

When you shoot video from either angle, the set moves laterally, the block moves laterally, and the defense re-forms behind the block. You get to see the block form, the hitter hitting around the block … it’s much, much better.

Maybe after the Olympics I’ll apply to be a director for NBC Sports. Anyone have a contact there?

Book Review: How Soccer Explains the World

soccer_world.jpegFranklin Foer’s book How Soccer Explains the World has the subtitle, “an {unlikely} theory of globalization.”

And his title and subtitle are, perhaps, my only quibbles with his excellent book. This isn’t one of those “Worms: How Fat, Soft-bodied Invertebrates Explain Human History” books.

It doesn’t exactly explain the world, though it is very much about globalization. The first part “tries to explain the failure of globalization to erode ancient hatreds in the game’s great rivalries.”

He calls this the “hooligan-heavy section of the book,” and once or twice he comes perilously close to retreading the same ground covered in Bill Buford’s harrowing and amazing Among the Thugs.

But Foer, an editor at the New Republic, goes the extra mile here, and it shows. His first chapter is how about a Serbian a soccer thug who helped organize troops who became murderers in the Balkan War. By the war’s end, the thug’s men had killed at least 2,000 Croats and Bosnians. There’s another, equally fascinating chapter about a soccer rivalry in Scotland inflamed by religious hatred.

The second section is more economic, with an excellent dissection of the disease-ridden state of football in Brazil, a look at Italian oligarchs, and arguably the most globalized chapter, about a Nigerian playing professional soccer in the Ukraine, where “Even the ruddy Ukranians line up in wool hats, long pants, and heavy parkas. Many Nigerians playing in the Ukraine complain bitterly about their inability to maneuver in these temperatures. They say that their frozen feet feel like sledgehammers, while their style of play demands a chisel’s delicacy.”

Apart from readers such as myself reaping the benefits of him roaming the world and watching soccer (in Brazil, Spain, Italy, the Ukraine, Scotland and the US, among others), the book is a whole new reading on politics, sometimes showing a country in an entirely new light as a result. One of the best chapters is about Islam, and the way that soccer has been a liberating influence for people there (especially women). The chapter on Brazil is no less illuminating. There’s even a two-chapter detour into The Jewish Question that describes Hakoah, a soccer team that’s a bona fide Jewish Sports Legend.

For as well informed as the book is about world events, Foer is no less astute when it comes to the US. He makes a fascinating argument that for children who came of age at the same time he did (I’d estimate he’s between 35 and 40), soccer was

a tabula rasa, a sport onto which a generation of parents could project their values. Quickly, soccer came to represent the fundamental tenets of yuppie parenting, the spirit of Sesame Street and Dr. Benjamin Spock. Unlike the other sports, it would foster self-esteem, minimize the pain of competition while still teaching life lessons.

That leads to a strange inversion in the United States: “In every other part of the world, soccer’s sociology varies little: it is the province of the working class.” In the US, as sporting goods surveys show, “children of middle class and affluent families play the game disproportionately.” I found that a shocking conclusion—not because it was wrong, but because my son plays youth soccer, and I still somehow didn’t see how obviously right it is.

In other words, soccer is an elitist sport, and thus derided by sports talk shows and conservatives who see it as yet another unpatriotic symptom in the American liberal disease of Europhilia.

Again, I’m not sure soccer explains the world, but it does make me see it in a whole new way.