Los Angeles — Track has this Little Orphan Annie event and it's called the triple jump. There are plenty of old-timers, though, who still refer to its as the hop, step, and jump. It is about as easy as learning to fly, without benefit of anything except speed, concentration, and great body balance.
Few have mastered its demands better than 29-year-old Milan Tiff, a human projectile who supplies his own power and aerodynamics. Yet there are those who feel he has even more talent in his fingers than in his legs.
Tiff is a sensitive individual who paints in bold colors, working exclusively in acrylic on canvas. But more about that later, and about the $3,500 he sometimes gets for a single piece of his art work.
This is a man who overcame severe physical handicaps as a child that even limited his walking ability but could never touch his courage. Within a year after taking up the triple jump he soared within an inch of 50 feet -- at that time the third longest triple jump in high school history.
When it came time for college, Tiff chose Miami of Ohio; then two years later transferred to UCLA. At Miami he pleased the natives by winning the NCAA indoor triple-jump title in 1970. At UCLA he added the outdoor crown in 1973, breaking the smog barrier in the process.
Describing the mechanics of the triple jump is a little like trying to explain how Cecil B. DeMile parted the Red Sea on film. But it's a lot more complicated than the long jump, where the runner takes off just once and then remains airborne as long as he can.
In the triple jump there are two brief encounters with the ground after the initial takeoff that must go smoothly. Otherwise, the idea of flying 50 or more feet through air on self-generated power has no chance of being accomplished.
There are times when even Tiff makes it look hard, but there are also times when his form, poise, and distance cause the birds to get out their notebooks. I mean if height was part of his thing, he most certainly would begin showing up on airport radar screens.
Triple jumping requires a running start of about 140 ffet, with each contestant getting three chances to impress the tape measure. The rules say that after the first jump the contestant must land on the same foot used for the initial takeoff, after the second on the opposite foot, and after the third on both feet.
"Triple jumping is an art form, with a lot of the ballet in it," Tiff says. "Your thinking and your rhythm have to be exactly right or you won't produce. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you can never be less than ready."
A lot of Milan's training takes place in California's Sierra foothills, where he often tests his speed and endurance against deer and other wild life.
As for the cultural side of Tiff, he has the heart, soul, hands, and imagination of a painter. He looks deeper into things than most people and there have been occasions when he has painted for as long as 18 hours at a time, stopping only to eat, train, and rest for short periods.
Geometric shapes, the cosmos, and other things far out seem to unlock something inside of him and out it pours, usually on canvas half the size of a ping-pong table. His strokes are bold and persuasive.
Tiff signs his paintings, not with anything so mundane as a name, but with three small white birds tucked naturally into a corner.
Somehow it is a signature that best fits him -- a man's whose preoccupation with flight never seems to wane.