How the High Jump Evolved: History of the Evolution of the High Jump
The First recorded High Jump operation was in Scotland within the 1800s. Early jumpers used either a straight-on approach or a scissors technique.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, techniques began to modernize, the high jump’s operation beginning with the Irish-American Michael Sweeney’s Japanese cut-off.
While taking off just like the scissors. However, extending his back and flattening out over the bar. Hence Sweeney achieved a lot of economic clearance and raised the global record to 1.97 m (6 foot five 1⁄2 in) in 1895.
Another American, George Horine, developed an even more efficient technique, the Western roll. Hence In this style, the bar is again approached on a diagonal. While the inner leg is used for the take-off, and the outer leg is thrust up to lead the body sideways over the bar.
Consequently, Horine increased the world standard to 2.01 m (6ft 7 in) in 1912. Especially relevant is his technique was predominant through the Berlin Olympics of 1936. In which Cornelius Johnson won the event at 2.03 m (6 ft 8 in).
American and Soviet jumpers held the playing field for the next four decades. And they pioneered the evolution of the straddle technique. Finally, straddle jumpers took off as in the Western roll.
But rotated their (belly-down) torso around the bar, obtaining the most economical clearance up to that time. Straddle-jumper Charles Dumas was the first to clear 2.13 m (or 7 feet) in 1956.
And American John Thomas (then just 19 years of age) pushed the world mark to 2.23 m (7ft 4 in) in 1960. After that, Valeriy Brumel took over the event for the next four years.
The elegant Soviet jumper radically sped up his approach run, took the high jump record up to 2.28 meters (7 ft 6 in), and won the Olympic gold medal in 1964 before a motorcycle accident ended his career.
American coaches, including two-time NCAA champion Frank Costello of the University of Maryland. I flocked to Russia to learn from Brumel and his coaches.
However, a solitary innovator at Oregon State University, Dick Fosbury, would bring the high jump operation 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 to the bar head and shoulders first. Then, sliding over on his back and landing in a fashion that 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 worldwide, and soon floppers were dominating international high jump competitions.
The last straddler to set a world high jump record was Vladimir Yashchenko, who cleared 2.33 m (7 ft 71⁄2 in) in 1977 and then 2.35 m (7 ft 8 1⁄2 in) indoors in 1978.
Hurdler 49 had written a good article with nice videos on the last great High Jumper to use the Straddle Technique in an age when the Fosbury Flop had become commonplace.
Evolution of the High Jump Part 2: True Origins of the Fosbury Flop?
As the initial thread of the Evolution of the High Jump operation was so popular. Currently being #3 most popular posts with over 800 reads at this time. I have decided to keep the original without making any changes for future reference. However, I did get a lot of feedback to mainly improve the article from Track & Field News from Per Anderson and GH.
Feedback from Track and Field News
A bit rudimentary, though. Some of the picture series are poorly made—especially the Eastern Cut-off sequence where picture #6 does not belong or is extremely badly done.
Similarly, # 5 in the Western roll sequence is poorly made. It does not follow #4, + it does not resemble anything. Just terrible.
The straddle sequence looks like a copy of a series I have seen of Brumel, except #4-5 in the sequence are way off.
On the other hand, I did like the western roll photo of Mary Bignal (Rand). I hadn’t seen it for ages.
Wondering who was the last known proponent of this technique at the national and international levels? Also what is the ‘WR’ for this HJ technique?
If by Scissors you mean the simple Scissors you see during warm-ups before meets, then the last world record was probably set in 1895 by James Ryan of Ireland at 1.94 (6’4 1/2″). Stefan Holm has also scissored 2.10 (originally reported at 2.05), but Patrik Sjöberg is reported (by Ed Fern) to have scissored 2.15.
(Holm Scissors 2.10m)
However, a more efficient way of scissoring was developed by Mike Sweeney. This technique, which is never seen today, was called the Sweeney style or Eastern Cut-Off style.
Sweeney set his last world record also in 1895 at 1.97. Kalevi Kotkas of Finland set a Euro record with this technique in 1936 at 2.04.
I would guess that the last time an Olympic finalist used this type of Scissors was in 1952.
The great female jumper Iolanda Balas also used a version of the Eastern Cut-Off during her world record jumps in the ’50s and ’60s.
.(provided by Per Anderson)
Then, I’ll add that I’m afraid I have to disagree with the following statement regarding the straddle:
The Russian and Americans pioneered the evolution of the straddle technique – Per Anderson
American high jumpers were the first to utilize both the straight leg straddle and the dive straddle. However, what most influenced Russian straddlers were the Swedish dive straddlers of the early-mid ’50s. While American straddlers had gradually slowed down the approach’s speed, culminating with Dumas in 1956, the Swedes started using a longer and faster run-up and focused mostly on the bent leg dive straddle (Bengt Nilsson world’s #2 and Euro champ in 1954). This is what influenced the Russians.
They added even more speed and utilized power (weight) training to a greater degree. Brumel did not RADICALLY speed up his approach run. He just ran faster than anybody up until then. Yashchenko was even faster than Brumel.
Brill should be given credit as well for Fosbury Flop.
Around the same time as Dick Fosbury, a lesser-known Canadian woman named Debbie Brill was perfecting the high jump operation. In Canada, this was becoming known as ‘The Brill Bend.’ The Video below presents evidence that Debbie Brill was using what later became known as the ‘Fosbury Flop’ in 1966. Two years before when Fosbury used it at the Olympic Games.
Brill quoted this
If we had had ‘coaching’, we wouldn’t have developed our styles. We’d have had to jump the ‘accepted’ way, which was the straddle.
However, Brill did not enjoy the same success as Fosbury but had a long career top-ranked in 1979 and broke the world indoor record in 1982.
Fosbury’s use of the jump at a major event established it as ‘The Fosbury Flop’ Fosbury at the 1968 Olympic Games smashed the old world record with his unorthodox jumping style, which later became the default method of all high jumpers ever since.
Even earlier examples of the Flop
Fosbury and Brill indeed had parallel evolution, geographically close yet with no knowledge of each other.
But as we “proved” with photo evidence in T&FN, neither of them was first. A guy named Bruce Quande (off the top of my head) used what was clearly the same technique at the ’63 Montana HS meet.
And my HS coach said he saw a guy in Germany in the ’30s do basically the same thing. The provenance is indeed murky. ‘gh – track and field news’
A comprehensive mechanical analysis of high jump technique evolution:
A “Science Friday” video explaining high jump technique:
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Andrew was elected Vice President of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians in 2020 after being a member for 7 years.
He has worked as a PSC Consultant and Research Assistant from 2013-2015, Consultant, and Sprint Coach at Zamboanga Sports Academy from 2015-2017.
Current editor and chief of Pinoyathletics.info, and has recently done consultancy work for Ayala Corp evaluating the Track and Field Program.
Coaches Sprints, Middle and Jump events he is working towards his Level 3 Athletics Australia Coaching Certification in Sprints and Hurdles.
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