Date of Award


Document Type

Access Controlled Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Peter M. McGinnis, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

John T. Foley, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Larissa True, Ph.D.


Steeplechase in the sport of track and field has been underrepresented in research. The steeplechase is a 3000m race during which each participant has to clear 35 barriers, 7 of which are into a water pit. Unlike the other hurdling events, where an athlete takes a specific number of steps between hurdles, in the steeplechase, an athlete does not maintain a set step count between the barriers. This means that there is very little structure to the approach to each barrier. Check steps, defined as foot strikes used to determine whether adjustment is necessary for proper take off, are often used with horizontal and vertical jumping events so that athletes can make sure that they are going to hit their take off marks and have time to

adjust, in order to take off correctly, before the last stride. In the pole vault this is especially important because the take off mark can change from jump to jump depending on a multitude of variables, including but not limited to fatigue, environmental conditions and implement selection. In the pole vault and the long jump, the check step may mark where a transition to a visually adjusted approach from a programmed approach occurs as the athlete tries to set up for the best vault or jump possible (Lee, Lishman, & Thomson, 1982; McGinnis, 2010). Where the transition occurs can be determined by measuring the footfall locations of an athlete’s approach over all of the athlete’s jumps in a competition. The standard deviations of each footfall location are then computed. If the athlete adopts a visually adjusted approach, standard deviations of footfall locations increase from the start of approach and then decrease from the step at which the visual strategy is adopted to the take off step (Hay, 1988a; Hay, 1988b; McGinnis & Abendroth-Smith, 1989). The transition occurs at the footfall with the largest standard deviation in location. The check step mark will be located at the average location of this footfall. A large standard deviation in footfall location for the purposes of this project means that over all trials there is a large variation in the where the foot strikes the ground, a small standard deviation would indicate the opposite and the footfalls land more closely together. In jumping events, approaches are one of, if not the most important part, of the event. As almost nothing about the trajectory of the center of gravity can be changed in the air, the athlete must use the approach to develop sufficient horizontal velocity to be able to afford a slight loss from the creation of the vertical velocity at the take off board. According to Hay (1988a) there are three specific goals of the long jump approach. These are (1) to be at the board with the toe as close to the leading edge as possible, (2) create maximal controllable horizontal velocity, and (3) maintain large horizontal velocity through the creation of a sufficiently large vertical velocity. Hay’s research demonstrated that long jumpers use programmed approaches through the majority of their approach. With four steps left to take off most athletes started to use visual cues to adjust their approach to

hit the take off in proper position on the board. These findings were in support of those of Lee, Lishman, and Thomson’s 1982 research on the same topic. In the steeplechase, it would seem that the smallest adjustment possible per step would be the most advantageous way for the athlete to maintain efficiency and mechanics. Though it may also be the case that less experienced athletes have a more difficult time recognizing the need to adjust and therefore would adjust with a shorter distance to the barrier, while more experienced athletes may start their adjustment further from the barrier. In the steeplechase a standard approach with a set number of steps between barriers is not taught, but many coaches will instruct that their athletes take three to five “hard” steps into the hurdle to “attack” the barrier. This may be the transition in approach that we are looking for but better fits the idea of a programmed approach instead of a visually adjusted approach. The shortcoming of a programmed approach in steeplechase is that there is no set take off mark for the steeplechase barrier. It is also known that the take off distance to the steeplechase barrier increases with every consecutive barrier so that the take off distance for the first and last barriers are significantly different (Earl, Hunter, Mack, & Seeley, 2015).