It’s incredible what you can see at 500 frames per second. Tell someone to jump, and after asking how high, they’ll bend their knees to a point and then explode upwards and off the ground – down, then up. Simple and efficient. So why are the best gymnasts in the world adding an extra ‘down’ and ‘up’ when jumping on the spring floor and vault? The answer, lies in the floor.
In live footage, one might watch a gymnast on a spring floor and believe they jump just like we do (plus all those twisty things). But after a rash of injuries following the 2003 world championships held in the in the States, the USOC wanted to take a look at their equipment and ensure it wasn’t causing problems.
The USOC reviewed the high-speed footage of the athletes and the equipment in action. Clicking frame by frame through the footage, they noticed an ever so slight, extra down/up in the athletes’ mechanics before launching. Even the gymnasts didn’t know they were adding the inefficient motion. They turned their attention to the floor itself and noticed that it was tuned incorrectly resulting in a rattling that caused the extra hiccup in the gymnast motion.
The little things do make a big difference, so the USOC has been testing various combinations of spring / foam floors which has offered some opportunity for improvement, but further research is necessary. We've been writing on this blog for some time the importance of proper biomechanics and injury prevention, in this case the equipment exacerbated the problem, which went unnoticed without the help of high speed cameras.