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High Jump infographic

A Higher Calling - The Event

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.

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 Olympic record and won gold at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.

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 Olympic record set 8 years earlier.

After clearing 2.06, she attempted to clear 2.10 but failed – the least number of times. 

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