Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

PALM LATITUDES

SPORT REPORT : Sudden Impact

April 04, 1993|Kathleen Moloney

"She stuck that landing perfectly." Gymnastics fans have heard that phrase a thousand times to describe a perfect finish by a gymnast. But Jill McNitt-Gray, an assistant professor of exercise science at USC, thinks sticks--landing squarely on both feet without taking a step--could be hazardous to the health.

Since the 1970s, when gymnasts began to perform on gym floors with a bottom layer of springs, athletes have been leaping higher and higher, increasing the risk of injury from a stick if they don't use their joints and muscles properly to absorb and distribute the shock of impact.

"A stuck landing can bring up to 24 times the gymnast's body weight crashing down onto the floor," says McNitt-Gray, 34, a former collegiate gymnastic competitor and coach. "And competitive gymnasts don't just do one landing a day; they do 20 or 30. I saw a lot of people get hurt with knee ligament or ankle injuries that retire an athlete prematurely."

Over the past seven years, she has analyzed tens of thousands of landings, using high-speed video cameras and devices that measure impact forces. The video images are digitized and converted into stick figures that help her isolate the "geometry of the movement."

Her findings, some of which have been published in academic journals, helped persuade the medical commission of the International Olympic Committee to send a three-person film crew and a researcher to Barcelona to document all the sticks. McNitt-Gray is using the film to study how gymnasts use their ankles, knees and hips to dissipate initial ground impact. She is still studying the techniques of the better landers to come up with recommendations for coaches and gymnasts.

In the meantime, she says, "I'd like to see if we can modify landing surfaces to help athletes absorb the forces of the landing better." But gymnastics rules mandate the surfaces used during competitions, so she's continuing her quest. "If you want to change a rule, you have to prove you need a rule change."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|