Are former track athletes more prone to fumbles in NFL?

David Wilson
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Wall Street Journal report posed an interesting theory about the New York Giants’ David Wilson‘s trouble holding onto the ball in the season opener Sunday.

Wilson, and some other running backs, may be more likely to fumble because they grew up running track.

Some of the backs the Wall Street Journal highlighted:

Wilson lost two fumbles in the Giants’ loss to the Cowboys on Sunday. He was sixth in the triple jump (16.20 meters) at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2011 and could run the 100 meters in 11.01 seconds.

The Buffalo Bills’ C.J. Spiller fumbled on his second carry in a loss to the Patriots on Sunday. He was a track and field phenom in high school in Florida, wearing golden shoes in sweeping the 100 and 200 at the Class 2A state meet in 2006. He ran the 100 in 10.29 and the 200 in 20.96 at Clemson.

The Arizona Cardinals’ Alfonso Smith fumbled in a loss to the Rams on Sunday. Smith ran the 100 in 10.52 in high school, winning a Kentucky Class AAA state championship.

“If the individual comes from a track and field background, certainly it may have created a situation which needs to be addressed for football,” Peter Thompson, a longtime coach and former official for the IAAF, told the Wall Street Journal.

Thompson pointed out how running backs are taught to run tight, with the ball pressed against their bodies, while sprinters are taught to run loose. “Tightening up” is a term used in track and field to describe runners losing their form toward the end of races.

The report also looked at the obvious differences in the way running backs carry the ball and sprinters carry a baton in a relay. Also, the athletes’ eyes. In the NFL, it’s key to have as much of a vision across the field whereas in track one is focused on a single lane.

Let’s take a look at more NFL players with sprinting backgrounds, thanks to a list compiled by @tracksuperfan. Unfortunately, most of the NFL’s fastest men are or were wide receivers. Of the running backs, here’s what we’ve got thanks to pro-football-reference.com:

Curtis Dickey ran the 100 in 10.11. He fumbled 33 times over 1,075 touches in a seven-year NFL career in the 1980s. That’s an average of three fumbles per 100 touches, a little bit higher than the NFL average at that time (about 2.5).

Robert Smith ran the 400 in 45.73. He fumbled nine times over 1,609 touches in an eight-year NFL career in the 1990s. That’s an average of .6 of a fumble per 100 touches, way lower than the NFL average at that time (about 1.5).

In fact, Smith carried 232 times in the 1997 season and didn’t fumble once. The next highest back that season with zero fumbles had 136 carries.

James McAlister long jumped 8.24 meters. He fumbled 12 times over 251 touches in a three-year NFL career in the 1970s. That’s an average of almost five fumbles per 100 touches, way more than the NFL average at that time (about 2.6).

Spiller ran the 60 meters (indoor) in 6.58. He’s fumbled 11 times over 591 touches in an ongoing four-year NFL career. That’s an average of about 1.9 fumbles per 100 touches. Pro-football-reference’s blog item on fumble rates only goes through 2007, but at the time the NFL average was trending down toward one fumble per 100 touches. So, Spiller’s fumble rate is high.

There are several potential flaws in fumble stats, but among the small sample size of the most elite track athletes to play in NFL history, it appears there is a higher propensity to fumble. Except for Smith, who would be the most reliable case study since he had the most carries out of this group.

2012 Olympic champion says gold medal stolen from his car

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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