Executing a high jump is both a complicated and simple task, one that combines a basic knowledge of physics with athletic skill.
A few highly accomplished high jumpers were on hand Friday at The Dome to demonstrate the intricate maneuver for those attending the Big C Relays, a two-day track and field meet hosted by Grace Christian and Anchorage Christian that includes around 1,000 athletes from 40 schools.
Making their first visits to Alaska were two-time Olympian and 2011 world champion high jumper Jesse Williams of Eugene, Ore., and Virginia's Bruce McBarnette, who holds the high jump world record for age 55 and older at 6 feet, 2 inches.
"I think it's awesome that they're able to hold this competition," Williams said. "I'm honored to be here and just have some fun with the kids."
Anchorage's Stacey Nieder, 43, who holds the American women's high jump record at 5-6 for women aged 40-44, joined McBarnette in a friendly competition against some of the state's best high school high jumpers. Nieder took on the girls and McBarnette took on the boys in the event knows as the Masters Challenge.
Nieder managed to top the girls with a jump of 5-2, just ahead of Bartlett sophomore Taylir Keuter (5-0). Lathrop senior Tevin Gladden cleared 6-2 to beat McBarnette, who cleared 5-10.
Gladden nearly cleared 6-4 on his final jump, but clipped the bar with his leg, eliciting groans from onlookers. He was hoping to beat his 6-5 mark from last season's event, though he might have kicked a little late on his final jump.
Williams, 29, showed no trouble clearing the 6-4 mark on one of several jumps he made between competitors' attempts in the Masters Challenge. Williams exerted little effort during his jumps and that's not surprising, considering his personal record is 7-9.25 set at the 2011 USA Outdoor championships.
"It's very demeaning to me," Gladden said of watching Williams. "I don't think it's fair. I think he cheats a little bit."
Williams may have made high jumping look easy, but those who compete know better.
"It's a very difficult sport, because it's counter-intuitive," McBarnette said. "What you're trying to do in the high jump is generate centrifugal force that can cause your body to go into the tumbling motion, and most people don't know much about what that involves. Most people don't even know that you're trying to generate centrifugal force."
McBarnette, 55, seemingly hovers above ground when he approaches the bar for a jump. He glides in and makes a graceful leap that any high jumper would envy.
"When I coach, I call it light and fluffy," Nieder said. "It's so much fun to watch Bruce. He has a wealth of knowledge and it's amazing that he's in his 50s and he can do what he does. It's very inspiring."
Nieder, a doctor with Alaska Family Care Associates, coaches in her spare time and welcomes any kids who want to learn to high jump. Nieder doesn't charge for her lessons and said middle school kids are the easiest to recruit.
"It's very easy because I have a springboard and I have a rubber tubing bar and I have a big cushy pit and if you cannot have fun with that set up, there's something wrong with you," Nieder said.
Keuter, 16, is a high jumper with a bright future, Nieder said, and Keuter has gleaned a tip or two from Nieder. She's studied video of Nieder and watches her closely whenever she gets a chance. Competing and losing to an older competitor Friday was inspiring and motivating, Keuter said, and will make her a better high jumper.
"It's incredible, what they can do," Keuter said. "I would hope I can do that when I get older."
One of the keys to maintaining athletic longevity is to continually train and stay active, McBarnette said. He may not train as hard now as he did when a young man on the Princeton track and field team, but he has trained steadily since and is always prepared for competition. It's a big reason McBarnette has won nine world championships for his age group and 27 USA Track and Field Masters National Championships.
To say McBarnette keeps busy is an understatement. In addition to all his athletic achievements, the attorney is president of a real estate investment company who still finds time to teach courses for several colleges in the Washington D.C. area and partner with an organization called Fit Behavior, which is dedicated to helping people live active, healthy lives. He's also a model and actor who has rubbed shoulders with some big names on big shows.
"I've been in several episodes of 'West Wing', I've also been in 'Law and Order.' " he said. "I've been in 'Salt' with Angelina Jolie and 'Rendition' with Reece Witherspoon and also in 'Jackal' with Bruce Willis. It's a lot of fun doing some professional acting."
McBarnette tries to be a positive role model for kids and tries to help them understand that limiting their lives to just one pursuit is a mistake. He encourages kids to combine athletics with intellectual endeavors, because he's found the two go hand in hand.
"You can do multiple things in life if you devote your time and attention to it," McBarnette said. "That's a very important message, because life can be a lot of fun, but if you limit yourself you might find only doing what's necessary to make a living. If all you're doing is making a living, life can be pretty boring."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS