With each Olympics, we are reminded of our own connections to Games and memorable events or openings we may have watched with terrific anticipation. Not only have there been Olympic athletes with ties to IU, but there are Hoosiers involved in other ways. Recently, IU’s Jesus Dapena retired from the Kinesthetics department and his papers were transferred to the University Archives. Over the years, his impressive work has contributed to Team USA in the Summer Olympics.
Dapena studies the biomechanics of human movement completing a variety of activities, from cello playing to hammer throwing. While sports had always been central to his work, Dapena’s studies became more focused when he received a 1982 commission as the biomechanics researcher in charge of the high jump and hammer throw events for two U.S. Olympic Committee projects. His involvement with the high jump in these projects (the Elite Athlete Project and the Scientific Support Services) has continued even into recent years.
Dapena’s interest in track and field events began when he was a high jumper a young man. As he worked on his technique and watched athletes attempt the new Fosbury Flop (debuted at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics), Dapena considered the physics involved. In the 1980s he turned his attention to high jumpers, and he and colleagues studied videos and animations of potential Olympic athletes. The researchers would then produce a full length report on the individual’s technique and give advice on how they might improve. Dapena says that high jumping is part genetics and part technique. Since parentage is not easily changed, he suggests that teaching athletes technique is the best way to improve their chances of winning.
To hear more about the high jump, the Fosbury flop, and Dapena’s work, check out his interview on NPR’s Science Friday during the 2012 Olympics.