The high jump has likely been a track field event since the ancient days of the Olympics in Greece. The act of jumping over a stationary bar seems to have been a feat of athleticism since the earliest days of organized sports. But in the 1900′s the sport became more competitive as athletes developed new techniques and styles of jumping over the cross bar.
In the early 19th Century the first recorded high jump competition was recorded in Scotland. With jumpers using a rather primitive straight on approach and legs first or head first diving approach, the best measured jumps were only about five and a half feet high. Most early athletes of the sport used what was called a ‘Scissors’ technique to clear the cross bar. They would approach the bar from an angle and throw their inside leg over the bar as the outside leg came up, in a scissors style motion.
In the early 1900′s Irish-American M.F. Sweeney developed a new technique for the high jump called the ‘Eastern Cut-off’. He would approach the bar with speed, much like the scissors approach, but would extend his back and flatten out as he went over the bar. His clearance and those who also perfected it brought average high jumps to around the six and a half foot heights.
Another more efficient technique was developed by American athlete M.F. Horine called the ‘Western Roll’. Similar to the scissor approach and ‘Eastern Cut-off’, Horine would approach the bar with speed from an angle and would throw his outside leg over the bar then his inside leg in a rolling motion clearing the bar. His new technique led to a new standard of about six feet seven inches in heights reached in the high jump.
Some years later American and Russian athletes developed another new technique of high jumping called ‘The Straddle’. A jumper would approach the bar with speed from an angle and leap head first over the bar while rotating their torso around the bar. This new technique was perfected to the point that athletes were now reaching high jump heights of seven and a half feet.
In the 1960s, athlete Dick Fosbury of Oregon State University developed another new technique that would bring the high jump into its modern form. Called the ‘Fosbury Flop’, the jumper approaches the bar with speed from and angle and throws his head, arms, and shoulders over the bar with his head facing upward toward the sky. At the same time the athlete arches his back in a curving motion over the bar while kicking his legs over the bar. The technique became the standard and started new height records of almost eight feet high.
Along with the different types of jumping styles that have been developed over the history of high jumping, much of the equipment used has changed as well. The biggest change to the high jump is the addition to a soft cushioned landing area on the other side of the cross bar. For many years, high jumpers would subject their bodies to wear and tear by landing on piles of sand or hay when jumping. This made landing on your head or back an undesirable option. Once the padding landing areas we’re familiar with today were added, techniques like the ‘Fosbury Flop’ became much more obvious and easier to develop. The sport has also seen upgrades in things like running shoes, track surfaces, and even the material the bars are made out of have changed over the years. The history of the high jump goes back many years, and it has come a long way, but it is still one of the more exciting track and field events today.