Wind blows track records out of whack

BY CODY GOODWIN | MAY 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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Mississippi junior Isiah Young lined up to sprint in the men's 100-meter dash at the Drake Relays this past weekend in Des Moines. The weather hadn't been cooperating all weekend, but Young was determined to finish his day with a championship flag.

The gun fired, and the field took off. Young was well in front of his competition and crossed the line nearly 0.2 seconds in front of the other seven tracksters.

The crowd roared with excitement. His time was 10.08 seconds, which was enough for a Drake Relays record. Half of the press box also yelped with elation — Young had snapped a 29-year-old record by 0.03 seconds.

But the other half of the press-box members sat silently shaking their heads. Someone noted that Young didn't break the record.

"There was too much tailwind," said Zach Lawson, who was acting as Arkansas' athletics communications director on April 28.

The official term is "wind assistance," and it refers to the wind level during a race or event as registered by a wind gauge. It's mostly known for affecting running events when the wind is behind the athletes and jumping events when the wind could alter the position of an athlete once he or she is in the air.

Wind has the most potential to affect the long jump, triple jump, and any of the running events. But wind assistance can only affect record-setting performances pending the amount of wind that is assisting the athlete.

The U.S. Track and Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association's website states that a wind assistance greater than 2 meters per second automatically disqualifies an affected jump or sprint event from being a record.

This is what ruined Young's chances at downing a record that had been in place since 1983 — his wind assistance was 2.2 meters per second.

But the wind does much more than just wipe out record-breaking performances.

The weather wasn't friendly in Des Moines over the weekend, and the high jumpers felt the pressure from a windy night on April 27.

"Your technique gets messed up when it's windy," Hawkeye high jumper Graham Valdes said. "Cold and rain really aren't a factor in the high jump. It's mostly wind that's the biggest enemy."

Wind assistance isn't tallied for the high jumpers, but it's still a challenge each athlete must face while competing.

Iowa senior Jeff Herron — who placed second in the men's high jump — said wind wasn't ever a direct factor in deciding the winner of an event, but it can play a role in how the takeoff of a jump is altered.

"I knew, with the weather the way it was, that it wasn't going to take a very big jump to win," Herron said. "It was a small technique error on my part [that caused him to miss his final jump]."

The wind isn't something these athletes can prepare for, but it's something to which they must adjust upon arrival for the competition. That kind of mindset, Herron and Valdes both said, makes the difference between conference scorers and conference champions.

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