In part two of our interview, Acuff discussed her competitive strategy and offered advice to young jumpers and their coaches.
On changing her style over the years.
“I think probably the thing that’s changed most, from college to now, is, I’m a lot faster on my approach. A lot more of an open, fast run.”
On her statement, listed on her web site (amyacuff.org), that each jump is “never quite the
“I think it’s just a perspective on finding the uniqueness or looking at things from a different way each time. When you execute something it never is exactly the same. ... If you look at it on video you would say, ‛Yeah that looks just about exactly the same.’ And you work on different things, so that changes over time, what you’re thinking in your head. I guess what I meant by that statement was, even though it’s so rote, there’s an element of unpredictability.”
On her meet strategy.
“I just generally come in at something around six feet. Try not to be jumping more than eight or nine heights because you start to fatigue and get a little rubber-legged after that point. So if I feel like I’m really on, I’ll start higher. And it depends what the meet is, too. Sometimes at nationals they want to go up by two or three centimeters (each round). But over in Europe they always go up by five centimeters. So that can shorten the number of jumps you have to take. So I may come in higher in the U.S., just to avoid taking so many jumps. But again, it’s a delicate balance because you don’t want to sit there for an hour before you take your first jump.”
What a youth track and field coach should look for in a potential high jumper.
“Most people would say tall and lanky, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There’s some really good kind of more heptathlete-type bodies that have converted to high jump. The thing I would say in talent identification is the integrity of the connective tissues, the ligaments and tendons. I can always tell by looking at a kid, when they jog or go to jump, if they have a lot of, I call it, pancaking of their foot. Like when they go to jump if (the jumper’s foot) spreads out and flattens out and there’s a lot of give, they spend a lot of time on the ground and that’s usually a bad sign. But if they have a lot of rigid connective tissue, then you see that they’ll apply force and there’s not a lot of sag or give. (There’s) less shock absorption, which tears up your body a little bit, but you get to apply more force that way.”
On the first items to teach beginning jumpers.
“Usually learning the running style and they have to learn what foot to jump off. So we do some very basic kind of three-step, short-type jumps just so that they understand which leg and how to take off ...
“I think playing basketball is probably one of the best things (young high jumpers) can do. Just the fitness and all the repetitive jumps. And volleyball, I don’t know much about, but I’m sure that’s really good for (jumpers). As far as high jump-specific drills, maybe like a three-step pop- up, where you run three steps and jump off your take-off leg and then you land and you immediately run into another three steps and the third is your take-off. And you can do that on the curve of the track and just go 50 meters doing that repetitively.”
On how she prepares for meets.
“For training it’s just an on-going process. It’s pretty much year-round. I work on acceleration and speed, I work on quickness and neurological training, strength – general strength and also event-specific strength – plyometrics. My body pretty much knows what to do now, I’ve been doing it long enough, so when I go to jump, a lot of it is about just kind of trusting my subconscious and allowing my body to do what it’s going to do.”
On her mental preparation for competion.
“For me, just not over-thinking things in a competition, at this point. Finding motivation in each meet, that can be a challenge sometimes when you’re just going to all-comers meets and you don’t have a big meet. After being in the Olympics and these European meets where you have 50,000 people in the stands, it can be hard to take an all-comers meet seriously, where, there may be three jumpers in the meet and nobody’s watching and it’s at noon.”
What she’s looking forward to.
“We have our World Championships in August, in Berlin. That will be a really big meet and I’d like to prepare and hopefully perform really well there.”
How she feels about career as a whole.
“I think I’m still too close to it. It’s hard to be satisfied when you’re still in it and you still have goals. But I’m sure I’ll look back and be impressed, or happy. But right now I’m more focused on, what else can I do, and looking forward.”
What she’ll do after her high jump career ends.
“A lot of things. I’m a licensed acupuncturist, and I’d like to maybe have a family. I’d like to do some dangerous things, too, that I haven’t been permitting myself to do, maybe go snow skiing or some more outdoors activities. When you spend all your time training for a sport, you don’t have any energy left over to do active things. I like surfing and doing some things like that. So I’ll get to enjoy that with my husband.”
Read part 1 of this exclusive interview with American high jump champion Amy Acuff.