A Higher Calling - The Event
What does it really take to break the high jump world record or olympic record?
Imagine you have a clone. Now picture your clone standing on top of your coffee table.
Back up a few steps and using just your speed, strength and grace, see if you can jump over your elevated self.
Chances are, you and your clone are going to need stitches…and a new couch.
This is the high jump. Except instead of a clone, there is a 13-foot (4-meter) horizontal bar resting at a specific height in front of a large mat.
You are supposed to flail your body over this bar with a great degree of explosiveness and coordination while leaping off of just one foot. Get over the bar without knocking it down and you get to do it again, but this time the bar is higher.
Since these athletes are constantly searching for higher highs, the technique has changed more than any other track event in more than a hundred years. Jumpers have gone over the bar feet-first, headfirst, facedown and face-up.
Since the 1960’s, the best have flown leading with their head, eyes to the sky, like an upside down plane (a technique dubbed the Fosbury Flop).
This means they have to get comfortable falling from a height similar to your refrigerator, backwards. In the high jump, mental strength may be even more important than physical talent. But they’ve got plenty of that too.
High Jump Technique and Competition
As the high jumper approaches the bar, they run at a curve to set themselves up for the proper speed and takeoff angle. The steps in this imaginary semi-circle must be run perfectly while leaning inward, like a racecar around a banked track.
The speed is high, the angles are steep, and the technique is specific. Get it wrong and you’ll crash.
Competitors are eliminated if they miss three times at a specific height. The competition ends when everyone has failed at jumping over the highest height. It’s a competition defined by misses – the jumper who fails the least, wins. Now that’s glory.
HIGH JUMP OLYMPIC RECORDS
Men’s High Jump Olympic Record
7 feet, 10 inches – 2.39 meters
Charles Austin, United States 1996
Only a year before, Charles Austin wasn’t even ranked in the world’s top 10 jumpers.
After overcoming injury, he set a new men's Olympic high jump record and won gold at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. He is currently the last member of Team USA to win gold in the event.
He credited his confidence, his single mother of ten children and a hometown crowd for his win.
Women’s High Jump Olympic Record
6 feet, 9 inches – 2.06 meters
Yelena Slesarenko, Russia 2004
Slesarenko came into the 2004 Olympics with good form, winning the World Championships the same year.
She won the gold medal with her 2.06-meter jump, beating the previous women's Olympic high jump record set 8 years earlier.
After clearing 2.06, she attempted to clear 2.10 but failed – the least number of times.
HIGH JUMP WORLD RECORDS
Men's High Jump World Record
8 Feet, 0.45 Inches - 2.45 Meters
Javier Sotomayor, Spain, 1993
In 1988, Javier Sotomayor would have likely won gold at the Olympic games.
Just three weeks before, he had broken his first world record with a jump of 2.43 meters but was denied the opportunity to compete due to the Cuban government’s Olympic boycott.
One year later, in 1989, he reached an unprecedented height of 8 feet (2.44 meters), pushing the men's high jump world record even higher.
But Sotomayor wasn’t done yet. A year after winning his first Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992, he cleared the record that still stands almost 20 years later - 2.45 meters.
That is the height of a mark many Cubans have on one wall of their house to honor their beloved countryman. As the only person in history to jump over 8 feet, Javier Sotomayor literally made his mark.
Who he stole the record from
Carlo Thranhardt, 7 feet,11.25 inches - 2.42 meters
Thranhardt was a fierce competitor and highly accomplished jumper that set the outdoor men's high jump world record February 26, 1988.
However, his celebration would be short lived.
Just 6 months later Javier would top Carlo's record by a quarter of an inch on his world record setting run from September 8 1988 to July 27, 1993.
There were several key differences between Sotomayor and Thranhardt.
Sotomayor was known for his exceptional technique and body control, which allowed him to execute his jumps with precision and accuracy.
In contrast, Thranhardt was known for his raw power and explosiveness, which enabled him to generate high levels of force and momentum in his jumps.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the two athletes was their training and approach to the event.
Sotomayor was known for his dedication to his training and focus during his high jump workouts.
Thranhardt, on the other hand, was known for his more laid-back approach to training and his reliance on his natural talent and ability. As the saying goes, "talent can only get you so far (or high).'
Women's High Jump World Record
6 Feet, 10 Inches - 2.09 Meters
Stefka Kostadinova, Rome, 1987
Jumping over 2.00m is easy. At least Stefka Kostadinova makes it look that way.
She did it 197 times in competition. She also won two world outdoor championships, five world indoor championships, set an Olympic record, won an Olympic silver medal, and then Olympic gold.
So it’s not surprising that Kostadinova holds one of the longest-standing world records in modern athletics.
During the 1987 World Championships in Rome, Stefka Kostadinova jumped 2.09 meters (6 ft. 10 in), making holding the women's high jump world record look easy for decades.
If you would like to learn the most effective system for training and coaching elite high jump technique, check out Coach Ryan Baily's masterclass, Jumping Smarter, Jumping Higher.