Willie Banks, the Hall of Fame track star out of Oceanside High School, this summer marked the 30th anniversary of his world record in the triple jump.
He says the triple jump is “suffering.”
Writing in the November issue of Techniques, a quarterly magazine of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, Banks suggests many elite jumpers are doing the event wrong.
“Reliance on the double-arm takeoff is handicapping athletes,” he said in the magazine’s cover story, referring to the action where both arms are held back and come up together at the moment of first takeoff. “Jumping too high in the hop phase and not focusing on swing-leg speed in the step phase are other mistakes.”
Then Banks, a 1984 and 1988 Olympian, made a remarkable prediction: “Correcting these and other issues at the elite levels could make a 19-meter (62-4) jump possible.”
A 28-inch improvement in the triple jump — once called the hop, skip and jump — would be equivalent to a 4 percent improvement in the 1995 world record by Britain’s Jonathan Edwards (whom Banks helped coach). A 4 percent improvement in Usain’s Bolt’s world record in the 100-meter dash would see it drop from 9.58 to 9.20 seconds.
The world record in the mile run would decline nearly 9 seconds — to 3:34.2.
Banks says in the article, co-written with Times contributing editor Ken Stone, that had he not hurt his Achilles tendon, “I believe 18.50 meters (60-8 1/2) was very possible for me.”
He says that 6-foot-8 Brazilian Olympian Jadel Gregório, “with his size and power,” is capable of jumping close to 62 feet.
“The limiting factor is the 13-meter (42-8) length of the runway from the board to the pit,” Banks says. “Eventually, officials will increase this distance, and marks will improve considerably, especially for athletes who take off using their long jump leg.”
Banks says Pedro Pichardo, whose 59-3 was the longest jump in the event since 1996, is the first Cuban he’s seen use the proper takeoff and “add the much needed jump phase at the end.”
“Cuban coaches are doing fantastic things with their young athletes,” he says, “but fail to complete the job. Still, their young jumpers are learning the proper technique early.”
American coaches, by contrast, are not stressing the basic skills of the triple jump — bounding and what Banks calls “active landings” — where the athlete paws the ground like a horse.
Banks makes a series of technical suggestions in the article, headlined “Stepping Up: Correcting errors to improve the result.”
In his conclusion, Banks notes that his fastest 100-meter dash was 11 seconds — well off the world-class speed of other jumpers.
“I couldn’t squat better than 220 pounds, and my best bench press was about 176 pounds,” also below the strength levels of many current jumpers. “I was 6 foot 3 inches and weighed about 172 pounds. Despite my enthusiasm for the event and technical studies, I failed to work on the weakest part of my jump — the step phase.”
Banks, who now lives in Carlsbad, admits that he “made many excuses” and never fixed the problem, “depending heavily on my jump phase to compensate for the failed step.”
He says if he had gotten a typical 38-foot hop and step — instead of staying around 36 feet — he could have been the first over 60 feet — 10 years ahead of Edwards.
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