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Glory After Chaos - The Event

Ever played hopscotch? Well this is nothing like that. Unless you were the fastest, strongest, highest jumping kid on the playground, it’s best you sit this one out. This dynamic event starts with a blistering run down a runway followed by a gazelle-like hop, which is succeeded by a step that would shatter most people’s bones, followed by a soaring jump into a sandpit.

Let’s break that down a little farther:

  • The run is a smoking 21.25 – 23.5 miles/hour (9.5-10.5 meters/second).
  • The hop: Once an athlete reaches the takeoff board, they make their first leap in the hop phase. But calling it a hop barely does it justice. This first jump can reach distances just slightly less than a long jump but instead of landing in the sand, the jumper simply carries on.
  • A Step that exerts up to 22 times your body weight – that’s like a 165lb (74.8 kg) athlete suddenly weighing 1.8 tons and holding that weight on one leg. There is no other intentional movement in sport that subjects a human limb to more force. This is why the shin and thigh bones of triple jumpers actually become thicker and denser – to withstand the force of one seriously crucial step. 
  • Now Jump: The triple jump is a delicate balance of speed, stability and force, all while making contact with the ground for just one to two tenths of a second. In this phase, the athlete must jump as high as they can without losing speed. Because of this, technique is critical. The slightest mistake, and the jumper will fail.  

The winner is the jumper whose first mark in the sand is farthest from the takeoff board. They are the ones that run faster, leap higher and are stronger than anyone else.

triple jumper chris benard taking jumps at chula vista
Chris Benard taking jumps at Chula Vista a few weeks prior to making the US Olympic team in 2021

Men’s Triple Jump Olympic Record

59 feet, 4 inches - 18.09 meters

Kenny Harrison, United States, 1996

Kenny Harrison can jump in the face of doubt and hardship. Told he was too short to be successful in the event, he learned that having to prove himself was a powerful motivator.

In 1991 he did just that by winning the World Championships. Though in 1992, he tore the cartilage in his knee and lost his chance to compete in the 1992 Olympic games. But Kenny bounded back – recovering from surgery to qualify for the 1996 games. 

Still, that was not the end of adversity for Kenny Harrison. Just hours before he was scheduled to compete in Atlanta, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing rocked the games.

In the midst of chaos and grief, Kenny turned in a staggering performance, jumping the longest distance ever with a negative headwind. His 59 foot, 4 inch record has stood through five subsequent Olympics. That’s what happens when you tell Kenny Harrison he can’t do something. 

Women's TRIPLE Jump Olympic Record

50 feet, 6 inches – 15.39 meters

Francoise Mbango Etone, Cameroon, 2008

Making Olympic history, earning the first gold medal for your country, and setting both the Olympic and African record – easy. At least Francoise Mbango Etone makes it look that way.

Not only did she win the first gold for Cameroon in 2004, she became the first female triple jumper to retain an Olympic title in 2008. She did this by breaking the Olympic record and setting a new African record in the process. But wait, there’s more…

In between the Athens and Beijing games, Francoise Mbango Etone took three years off from the sport to have her first child. After training for just a year, she competed against six women who jumped further than 15 meters for the first time ever in an Olympic games.

After winning she said, “To have more than six over 15 meters is fantastic. I was surprised but I was not afraid.” Move over Wonder Woman, there’s a real-life lady with divine super abilities.

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