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What is the High Jump?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 23, 2024
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The high jump is a jump made over a horizontal bar in track and field events. It is a jump for height that includes an approach run, a raised horizontal bar, and a soft or cushioned landing area. It has been competed in since the Olympics of ancient Greece, is featured at both high school and collegiate levels, and is now a popular sport in the modern Summer Olympic Games every four years. It has produced such popular athletes and terms as Dick Fosbury and his “Fosbury Flop.”

The high jump begins with a run-up on a curved runway, usually 15 m (49.2 feet). The jumper then proceeds to jump over the bar without knocking it down, though the jumper's body may touch the bar. While they are restricted by few other rules, jumps must be made off of one foot and without any aid. The jumper, whether succeeding over the bar or knocking it down, lands onto the softened area under the apparatus. This area, commonly made of sand before the 20th century, has been replaced by foam or cushions allowing for an easier and safer landing.

The high jump can be executed in many ways, as they follow no restrictions, but have followed general trends throughout the history of this event. The most popular jumps have included the scissors jump, which employs an upright posture with the legs split to decrease the height of the body; the Western straddle, or roll, which features a face down horizontal jump over the bar, with one leg leading the body; and the Fosbury Flop, which revolutionized the high jump method.

The Fosbury Flop, popularized by Olympic gold medalist Dick Fosbury in 1968, introduced the high jumping world to a backward jump that has been the standard for jumpers since. It features a low center of gravity during the run-up, a curved approach, and a rotating body up to the bar. A somersault-like motion and an arched back, with legs and shoulders kept low before snapping over the bar, allow for an extremely low center of mass.

With the help of the Fosbury Flop, high jumps heights have steadily increased in around the world for over a century. In the early 20th century, the high jump mark stood around 1.97 m (6.6 feet) with early methods. By 1956, the mark had moved up to 2.1 m (7 feet), and by 1977 had moved up to 2.33 m (7.6 feet). The world record for this event, both indoor and outdoor, is held by Cuban jumper Javier Sotomayor, who jumped 2.45 m (8.04 feet) in 1993.

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Discussion Comments
By sunshined — On Mar 12, 2012

@SarahSon - I wonder if you have the high jump confused with the pole vault? Both of these events require jumping over a bar, but with the high jump, you don't use a pole to help propel you over.

I do understand your fascination with watching them though. I don't see how anybody can do either one of them without getting hurt or landing on their neck.

One of my good friends did compete in the high jump both in high school and college. He was always working on his technique and trying to figure out how to jump higher in each high jump.

Even though there may not be a lot of people who sign up for this event, the competition within the event is quite stiff.

By bagley79 — On Mar 12, 2012

@SarahSon - For me, I got involved with the high jump because several of my family members who were older than me were high jumpers.

When I was old enough to join the track team, it was just expected that I would also participate in the high jump.

Of course, I had exposure to this because of my dad and brother's had also competed in this event.

You are right about the popularity of the running events. Most of the field events didn't get nearly as much attention or crowds of people around.

No matter what type of high jumping technique I used, I was really never very good at it, and haven't done anything with it since high school. This event was usually done pretty early in the meet, so then I could go and watch my teammates in their events.

By SarahSon — On Mar 11, 2012

Since I am just five feet tall, doing the high jump in track was something I was never interested in. I loved to watch those who competed in this event though.

I was fascinated how they could run with this long pole in their hand and jump over this bar that was way over their head.

I always wondered how someone realized they were good at this. When I was in track, I don't remember very many people signing up for this event.

Most of the field events weren't as popular as the running events, and it seems like there were even fewer high jumpers than anything else.

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