High Jump History of Evolution (revised)

High Jump Evolution

High Jump Evolution: History of the Evolution of the High Jump and 4 Differents

The High Jump Evolution: Spotlight on the Scissors Technique

Tracing back to Scotland in the 1800s, the inception of the Scissors technique played a pivotal role in the high jump evolution. Early pioneers predominantly opted for a straight-on approach, while some innovators championed the scissors method.


Milestones and Distinguished Jumpers in High Jump Evolution

Ever wondered about the final renowned exponent of the Scissors technique on both national and international stages? Or the standing world record (WR) associated with this unique high jump style?

During pre-meet warm-ups, the Scissors technique was a common sight. Its most notable world record was set in 1895 when James Ryan of Ireland soared to a height of 1.94m (6’4 1/2″).

As the high jump evolution continued, Mike Sweeney brought forth an enhanced version of the Scissors method, christened the Sweeney style or Eastern Cut-Off. Though it’s seldom seen in today’s competitions, Sweeney’s innovation led him to set a record of 1.97m in 1895. Subsequently, Kalevi Kotkas of Finland set a European benchmark with a 2.04m jump in 1936, employing this refined technique.

It’s speculated that the 1952 Olympics might mark the last grand event where an athlete showcased the Scissors technique.

Highlighting the women’s contribution to the high jump evolution, the iconic Iolanda Balas adopted a version of the Eastern Cut-Off, setting records in the 1950s and 1960s.

More recently Stefan Holm achieved an impressive 2.10m (originally noted as 2.05m), and sources attribute Patrik Sjöberg with a commendable jump of 2.15m.

Insights courtesy of Per Anderson Track and Field News


High Jump Evolution: The Emergence of the Eastern Cutoff Technique

As the high jump evolution progressed into the twentieth century, techniques underwent significant transformations. A pivotal moment in this evolution was marked by the introduction of the Eastern Cutoff technique by the Irish-American jumper, Michael Sweeney.

Sweeney’s approach was reminiscent of the traditional scissors technique during takeoff. However, he introduced a game-changing modification: instead of merely lifting his legs over the bar, Sweeney extended his back, achieving a flattened arc over the bar. This nuanced change allowed for more efficient clearance, minimizing the height needed for the jumper’s centre of gravity to pass over the bar. As a result of this innovative technique, Sweeney set a groundbreaking global record of 1.97 m (6 foot five 1⁄2 in) in 1895.

Delving Deeper into the Eastern Cutoff Technique in High Jump History

The Eastern Cutoff, sometimes referred to as the “Japanese cut-off,” marked a significant departure from the scissors method. While the scissors technique involved a straightforward, head-on approach to the bar, the Eastern Cutoff emphasized the importance of the jumper’s back alignment and body rotation during the jump.

This technique’s efficiency was evident in the way it allowed jumpers to achieve greater heights without necessarily increasing their vertical takeoff power. The flattened trajectory over the bar meant that the athlete’s centre of gravity could pass below the bar, even as their body cleared it.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Eastern Cutoff gained popularity among high jumpers seeking to push the boundaries of what was achievable. Its prominence in the high jump evolution showcased the sport’s continuous adaptation and the athletes’ relentless pursuit of excellence

High Jump Evolution: The Introduction of the Western Roll

George Horine during the high jump competition at the 1912 Summer

As the narrative of high jump evolution unfolded, the early 20th century witnessed the emergence of the Western Roll, a technique pioneered by American jumper George Horine. This method marked yet another significant advancement in the sport’s history, showcasing the continuous quest for optimizing jump techniques.

In the Western Roll, athletes approach the bar diagonally, similar to some earlier techniques. However, Horine introduced a distinct change: instead of using the outer leg for take-off, the inner leg propels the jump. Subsequently, the outer leg is thrust upwards, leading the body in a sideways motion over the bar. This nuanced approach allowed for a more streamlined and efficient clearance over the bar.

Horine’s innovative technique bore fruit when he set a new world record, clearing a height of 2.01 m (6ft 7 in) in 1912. The Western Roll’s effectiveness was further underscored when it became the dominant technique leading up to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. A testament to its prowess, Cornelius Johnson clinched the gold at these Olympics with a jump of 2.03 m (6 ft 8 in), employing the Western Roll.

Mary Bignal (Rand) Western Roll.

The Legacy of the Western Roll in High Jump Evolution

The Western Roll’s significance in the high jump evolution cannot be understated. It bridged the gap between earlier techniques like the scissors and Eastern Cutoff and paved the way for future innovations, such as the Fosbury Flop. By emphasizing a sideways clearance, the Western Roll allowed athletes to achieve greater heights with a more fluid motion.

While newer techniques have since emerged, the Western Roll remains a testament to the sport’s dynamic nature and the athletes’ unyielding drive to push boundaries and redefine what’s possible.



High Jump Evolution: The Dominance of the Straddle Technique

The journey of high jump evolution saw a significant shift with the introduction of the straddle technique. Initially adopted by American high jumpers, both the straight-leg straddle and the dive straddle became popular. However, it was the Swedish dive straddlers of the early to mid-’50s that greatly influenced Russian athletes. While American proponents of the technique had reduced the speed of their approach, epitomized by Charles Dumas in 1956, the Swedes introduced a longer, faster run-up, with a particular emphasis on the bent leg dive straddle, as demonstrated by champions like Bengt Nilsson in 1954.

The Russians, inspired by this approach, incorporated even greater speed and integrated intensive power training. Valeriy Brumel, for instance, didn’t make a drastic change to his approach run but simply executed it faster than his predecessors, with Vladimir Yashchenko even surpassing Brumel’s speed.

How the High Jump Evolved
Brumel at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (Photo Credits: Getty Images) How the High Jump Evolved

The straddle technique, a pivotal chapter in the high jump evolution, involved a take-off similar to the Western roll. However, jumpers would rotate their torso belly-down around the bar, achieving the most efficient clearance of that era. Charles Dumas, a straddle jumper, made history by clearing 2.13 m (or 7 feet) in 1956.


Further Improvements

The record was further elevated by American John Thomas, who, at just 19, set a new benchmark of 2.23 m (7ft 4 in) in 1960. Subsequently, Valeriy Brumel dominated the high jump scene, pushing the record to 2.28 meters (7 ft 6 in) and clinching the Olympic gold in 1964. Tragically, Brumel’s promising career was cut short by a motorcycle accident. For those facing similar adversities, resources and support can be found at Aronfeld’s Motorcycle Accidents Assistance.

Vladimir Yashchenko stands as the last straddler to set a world high jump record, achieving 2.34 m in 1977 and 2.35 m indoors in 1978. Hurdler 49 penned an insightful article, complete with videos, highlighting Brummel the last prominent high jumper employing the Straddle Technique in an era where the Fosbury Flop reigned supreme.


High Jump Evolution: From Traditional Techniques to the Fosbury Flop

In the quest to understand the high jump evolution, many American coaches, including Frank Costello, a two-time NCAA champion from the University of Maryland, journeyed to Russia. They sought insights from the expertise of Brumel and his coaching team.

Yet, it was Dick Fosbury, an innovator from Oregon State University, who would redefine the high jump for the coming era. Leveraging the newly introduced softer landing areas, Fosbury revolutionized the outdated Eastern Cut-off technique. Approaching the bar head and shoulders first, he would glide over it, landing on his back—a technique that would have been perilous with the former sawdust landing pits. After clinching the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics using this “Fosbury Flop,” the method gained global traction, with “floppers” soon dominating the high jump scene.

The ‘Brill Bend’

Parallel to Fosbury’s innovations, Canadian jumper Debbie Brill was refining her high jump technique, known in Canada as ‘The Brill Bend.’ Evidence suggests that Brill adopted a technique akin to the ‘Fosbury Flop’ as early as 1966, predating Fosbury’s Olympic showcase. Brill once remarked, “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.” Though not as celebrated as Fosbury, Brill had a distinguished career, even breaking the world indoor record in 1982.

Fosbury’s Olympic performance in 1968, where he shattered the world record with his unconventional style, cemented the ‘Fosbury Flop’ as the gold standard for high jumpers.

However, the origins of the Flop trace back even further. Both Fosbury and Brill’s techniques evolved independently, yet in close geographical proximity, unbeknownst to each other. Photo evidence in Track & Field News reveals Bruce Quande employing a similar technique at a 1963 Montana HS meet. Additionally, tales from a high school coach recount witnessing a similar jump style in Germany during the 1930s. The true origins of the technique remain shrouded in mystery, as noted by ‘gh – track and field news’.

Fosbury Flop (daegu2011.blogspot.com.au). How the High Jump Evolved


Conclusion: Reflecting on the High Jump Evolution

The journey of the high jump, as traced through its various evolutionary stages. Underscores the sport’s dynamic nature and the relentless pursuit of excellence by athletes and coaches alike. From the rudimentary Scissors technique that originated in the 1800s. To the groundbreaking Fosbury Flop that redefined the sport in the late 20th century. Each phase of the high jump evolution has been marked by innovation, adaptation, and a quest to push human limits.

The sport has witnessed a myriad of techniques. Each with its unique flair and significance. Whether it was the Eastern Cutoff’s emphasis on body rotation or the Western Roll’s streamlined clearance. Every method contributed to the rich tapestry of the high jump’s history. The stories of athletes like Michael Sweeney, George Horine, and Dick Fosbury. Not only highlight individual brilliance. But also showcase the collective spirit of the high jump community in embracing change and seeking improvement.


Womens Roles

Moreover, the contributions of female athletes, such as Iolanda Balas and Debbie Brill. Remind us of the sport’s inclusivity and the pivotal roles women have played in shaping its trajectory. The parallel evolutions of techniques, as seen with Fosbury and Brill, further emphasize the global nature of innovation. Where similar breakthroughs can occur independently across different geographies.

In essence, the high jump evolution serves as a testament to human ingenuity, resilience, and the unyielding drive to soar higher. As we look back on the milestones achieved. It instils anticipation and excitement for the future possibilities and innovations that await the world of high jumping.

Appendix I: Notes Track and Field News

As the initial thread of the Evolution of the High Jump operation was so popular. Currently being #3 most popular post with over 800 reads at this time. I have decided to keep the original without making any changes for future reference. I did get a lot of feedback to mainly improve the article from Track & Field News from Per Anderson and GH.

Appendix II: Notes From Letsrun.com

Jesus Dapena is the authority on everything related to the high jump operation. A comprehensive mechanical analysis of high jump technique evolution: p391-presentations/hjevo-isbs.ppt A “Science Friday” video explaining the high jump technique:


Brearley, M. N., & de Mestre, N. J. (2001). The high jump – the neglected Straddle style. The Mathematical Gazette85(503), 249–254. https://doi.org/10.2307/3622011



Lets Run. (2012). High Jump Evolution. Retrieved From https://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=4811318

The Evolution of High Jumping Technique: Biomechanical Analysis Jesús Dapena Department of Kinesiology Indiana University U.S.A. adapted from the Dyson. – ppt download. (n.d.). Slideplayer.com. https://slideplayer.com/slide/1524928/

Track & Field News. (2023). The Bible of the Sport Since 1948. Retrieved from https://www.trackandfieldnews.com/

What is Western roll technique in high jump? – BioSidmartin. (n.d.). Biosidmartin.com. Retrieved August 22, 2023, from https://biosidmartin.com/what-is-western-roll-technique-in-high-jump/






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