Phenomena

Rio 2016: Long Jump

Long jump, like many track and field events, is affected by fluid dynamics in subtle ways. Both wind speed and altitude can modify a jumper’s performance – first, by changing the maximum speed they reach in their sprint, and second, through aerodynamic drag while in flight. Air resistance accounts for roughly 10% of a sprinter’s energy expenditure. A slight tailwind gives an athlete a minor boost in speed that can translate into a more significant increase in jump distance. On the other hand, though, a headwind of the same magnitude has an even stronger negative effect on performance.

The other factor, altitude, comes into play through air density. The official Olympic record for the long jump was set by Bob Beamon in the 1968 Mexico City Games. The high altitude of Mexico City results in an air density that’s only 75% of that at sea level. That’s tougher on athletes in terms of oxygen levels, but it’s a big reduction in the overall drag they face, resulting in both a higher sprinting speed and less aerial drag. This is part of why Beamon’s jump stood as a world record for well over 20 years! (Image credits: AP Photo; AFP/GettyImages; Reuters)

Previously: Can dimpled shoes help runners?; the unusual aerodynamics of the javelinthe physics of the discus

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