High jump

From Academic Kids

The high jump is an athletics/track and field event in which competitors must jump over a horizontal bar placed at measured heights.



Although the event was likely competed in as early as the ancient Greek Olympics, the first recorded high jump competition took place in Scotland in the early 19th century, with clearances of up to 5'6" measured. Early jumpers used either a straight on approach or a scissors technique. In the latter, the bar was approached on a diagonal, and the jumper threw first the inside leg and then the other over the bar in a scissoring motion. Around the turn of the century, techniques began to modernize, starting with M.F. Sweeney's Eastern cut-off. By taking off as in the scissors, but extending his back and flattening out over the bar, the Irish-American gained a more economic clearance and took the world record to 6'5-5/8" (1.97 m) in 1895.

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Another American, M.F. Horine, developed a yet more efficient technique, the Western roll. In this style, the bar again is approached on a diagonal, but the inner leg is used for the take-off, while the outer leg is thrust up to lead the body sideways over the bar. Horine took the world standard to 6'7" (2.01 m) in 1912. His technique predominated through the Berlin Olympics of 1936 where the event was won by Cornelius Johnson at 2.03 m (6'9-3/4").

American and then Russian jumpers dominated the next four decades, which saw the evolution of the straddle technique. Straddle jumpers took off as in the Western roll, but rotated their (belly-down) torso around the bar, obtaining the most economical clearance to date. Straddle-jumper Charles Dumas broke the elusive 7' (2.13 m) barrier in 1956, and American wunderkind John Thomas pushed the world mark to 2.23 m (7'3-3/4") in 1960. Valeri Brumel took over the event for the next four years. The elegant Soviet jumper radically sped up his approach run, took the record up to 2.28 m (7'5-3/4"), and won the Olympic gold medal in 1964, before a motorcycle accident foreshortened his career.

American coaches, including two-time NCAA champion Frank Costello of the University of Maryland, flocked to Russia to learn from Brumel and his coaches. However it would be a solitary innovator at Oregon State University, Dick Fosbury, who would bring the high jump into the next century. Taking advantage of the raised, softer landing areas by then in use, Fosbury added a new twist to the outmoded Eastern Cut-off. He directed himself over the bar head and shoulders first, sliding over on his back and landing in a fashion which would likely have broken his neck in the old sawdust landing pits. After he used this Fosbury flop to win the 1968 Olympic gold medal, the technique began to spread around the world, and soon floppers were dominating international high jump competitions. The last straddler to set a world record was the late Vladimir Yashchenko, who cleared 2.33 m (7'7-3/4") in 1977 and then 2.35 m ((7'8-1/2") indoors in 1978.

Among renowned high jumpers following Fosbury's lead were: Americans Dwight Stones and his rival, 5'8" (1.73 m) Franklin Jacobs, who cleared 2.32 m (7'7-1/2"), an astounding two feet (0.59 m) over his head; Chinese record-setters Ni-chi Chin and Zhu Jianhua; Germans Gerd Wessig and Dietmar M?burg; Swedish Olympic champion Patrik Sj?g; and female jumpers Iolanda Balas of Romania, Ulrike Meyfarth of Germany, Italy's Sara Simeoni, and American Amy Acuff.

Current status

Missing image
Women's world record holder Stefka Kostadinova makes a good clearance

At all but novice levels of competition, or where built-up landing areas are not available, the Fosbury Flop is now almost universally used. The current men's world record of 2.45 m (8'0-1/2") was set in 1993 by Cuba's Javier Sotomayor, while the women's world record holder is Stefka Kostadinova of Bulgaria. In the 2004 Olympics, Sweden's Stefan Holm won the men's gold medal, and Russia's Yelena Slesarenko outjumped two-time world champion Hestria Cloete to win the women's title. Holm, at 1.81 m tall, equaled Franklin Jacobs' height-over-head record of 59 cm when he cleared 2.40 m (7'10-1/2") to win the European Indoor championships in March 2005.

Procedures and rules

In a competition, the bar is initially set at a relatively low height, and is moved upward in set increments (usually 3 or 5 centimetres, can be 1 cm for record attempts). Each competitor has the option of choosing at which height they wish to start, but once a height has been cleared other competitors may not start at a lower height. Once a competitor has elected to begin, they can choose whether or not to attempt subsequent heights. A competitor may choose to pass at a given height or, after failing to clear the bar at a given height, may "pass" on subsequent attempts at that height. Any competitor who records three consecutive misses is out of the competition. The competitor who clears the highest jump is declared the winner. If two or more competitors clear the same maximum height, the competitor with the lowest number of failed attempts (at any height) wins. If that fails to break a tie for first place, a jump off is conducted. Heights obtained in such a jump off are eligible for records.

The modern high jump bar is made of glass-reinforced plastic or aluminium. Other materials are allowed, but there are weight and sag restrictions. The bar is approximately 4 metres in length (IAAF rules control length for record purposes), with a round, triangular, or square cross-section for most of its length, and two square resting points at each end. It is placed at a measured height on two uprights which allow the bar to rest on its ends at a measured height. Cleared heights are reported by measuring from the take-off point to the top edge of the lowest part of the bar. Directly behind the bar is a soft foam mat that allows for a safe landing. Competitors must leap off one foot to clear the bar. Although they may touch the bar in their clearance, the jump is ruled unsuccessful if the bar falls due to their touch.

See Also


  • "The Complete Book of Track and Field", by Tom McNab
  • "The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2000"

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