SHERIDAN — Track events have a clear objective: run as fast as possible, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. Most field events are self-explanatory as well: longest throw or highest jump wins. Nearly all field events have two motions: run and jump, turn and throw.
The triple jump is different. It is one of the only events that involves several distinct actions: run, hop, bound and jump and ultimately land in a sand pit.
The event was part of the first modern Olympics in 1896 but has evolved since then to its current iteration, which includes three phases.
Triple jumpers begin far away from the sand pit and rock back and forth with their feet remaining still to build a little momentum. They then have a sprint approach — usually between 12 and 16 steps — to a predetermined mark before taking off on their right or left leg, landing on the same leg for a bound, then landing and jumping into the pit with the opposite leg.
An ideal triple jumper is fairly tall with long legs and possesses speed and strength.
Because of its different aspects, triple jump is one of the most complicated track and field events to master.
“I would consider the pole vault to be the most technical, but I would put the triple jump right behind it,” Sheridan High School triple jump and high jump coach Art Baures said.
Baures has coached the event for 28 years, instructing dozens of athletes on its subtleties and nuances. He had to learn about the event in order to properly teach it and did so by attending various coaching clinics and watching extensive instructional videos, which he sometimes shows athletes.
“[Videos] are really good because the kids can actually see what it’s supposed to look like,” Baures said. “Oftentimes I’ll show them video of the things that we want them to do and they’ll emulate that.”
Some athletes have triple jump experience before high school but others aren’t too familiar with the event, so they need to learn from step one. With so many complicating factors, Baures focuses on simple steps at first and gradually works his way up to more advanced form and technique.
Baures begins by teaching a cycling motion, in which athletes swing their arms and legs in a similar motion to riding a bicycle. That is key to getting quality distance on the initial hop. Athletes can begin the hop at boards set up different distances away from the sand pit, usually 24, 28 or 32 feet. If any part of their foot crosses the front edge of the board, it is a scratch and the jump doesn’t count.
Big Horn High School jumps coach Andrew Marcure didn’t have much experience before taking over the jumping events five years ago. He competed in jumping events during middle school but was a high school thrower and college football player.
To learn about the triple jump, Marcure read technical books and watched videos. He learned about the science and mechanics like takeoff angles and plant steps and talked with experienced coaches like Baures.
“That’s probably what gave me a good basis, is learning from scratch,” Marcure said.
One of Marcure’s current jumpers is Liam Greenelsh, who remembered seeing his older sister McKenzie Greenelsh — who took third at outdoor state in the triple jump as a junior and senior and second in indoor state as a senior — have immediate success in the event, which made him want to try it in eighth grade.
Due to that year of competition, Greenelsh came into high school with a leg up on most freshmen in terms of technique.
“I would say I had a good base understanding, and from then on it was just tweaking small components,” Greenelsh said.
The familiarity has paid off. Greenelsh finished sixth at outdoor state as a sophomore with a distance of 40 feet, 8 inches. He took fifth in the event this year at indoor state, leaping 42 feet, 10 inches.
Laramie’s Stephen Michel set the Wyoming state record in triple jump in 2008 with a jump of 48 feet, 9.50 inches. The national high school records stands at 54 feet, 10 inches, while the world record is 60 feet, set in 1995 by Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards.
Coaches and athlete said the bounding phase is toughest to teach and learn because jumping and landing on the same leg is unnatural. Marcure said it is important to remain low to the ground during that phase to increase horizontal distance, instead of jumping high. Greenelsh is also one of the best 110-meter hurdlers in the state and said landing over a hurdle is similar to the bound phase of the triple jump, which aids his form.
Because of the impact and lower body stress from the event, neither coach has his athletes practice a full triple jump very often. Rather, they focus on specific aspects of the event. One of Marcure’s drills involves the athletes running full speed on turf and focusing on the takeoff step — jumping and landing on the same foot — then sprinting through the end instead of jumping.
“If I can keep the impact down and work on each little part specifically, that helps a ton,” Marcure said.
For instance, Greenelsh has spent a lot of time focusing on his landing form and said he can tell when he has had a great jump immediately upon landing.
Triple jump is one of the more time-consuming events to learn, but understanding the complicated technique can help athletes like Greenelsh leap onto the state podium.