About the High Jump

Performed as early as the Olympics in ancient Greece, the first recorded high jump event took place in Scotland in the 19th century, with heights of up to (1.68 m) contested.


Early jumpers used either an elaborate straight-on approach or a scissors technique. In the latter, the bar was approached diagonally, and the jumper threw first the inside leg and then the other over the bar in a scissoring motion.

Eastern Cut-Off

Around the turn of the 20th century, techniques began to modernise, starting with the Irish-American M.F. Sweeney. By taking off as if with the scissors, but extending his back and flattening out over the bar, Sweeney achieved a more economic clearance and raised the world record to 6' 5⅝" (1.97 m) in 1895.

Western Roll

Another American, M.F. Horine, developed an even 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 increased the world standard to 6' 7" (2.01 m) in 1912. His technique predominated through the Berlin Olympics of 1936, in which the event was won by Cornelius Johnson at 2.03 m (6' 8").


American and Russian jumpers held the playing field for the next four decades, and they pioneered 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' 3¾") in 1960. Valeriy 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' 5¾"), and won the Olympic gold medal in 1964, before a motorcycle accident ended his career.

Fosbury Flop

It would be a solitary innovator at Oregon State University called 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 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' 7¾") in 1977 and then 2.35 m (7' 8½") indoors in 1978.

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