An Illustrated History of the High Jump

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Early Days of the High Jump

Harold Osborn
Harold Osborn using the high-jump style of his day - rolls over the bar on his way to victory at the 1924 Olympics. FPG/Staff/Getty Images

The high jump was among the events in the first modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896. Americans won the first eight Olympic high jump championships (not including the semi-official 1906 Games). Harold Osborn was the 1924 gold medalist with a then-Olympic record leap of 1.98 meters (6 feet, 5¾ inches).

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New Technique

Dick Fosbury
Dick Fosbury goes head-first over the bar during his gold medal performance at the 1968 Olympics. Keystone/Stringer/Getty Images

Before the 1960s, high jumpers generally leaped feet-first and then rolled over the bar. A new head-first technique surfaced in the '60s, with Dick Fosbury as its notable early proponent. Employing his "Fosbury Flop" style, the American earned the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics.

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High-Flying Women

Ulrike Meyfarth
Ulrike Meyfarth won her second Olympic high jump gold medal - 12 years after her first - at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Bongarts/Staff/Getty Images

When women entered Olympic track and field competition in 1928, the high jump was the lone female jumping event. West German Ulrike Meyfarth is one of the standouts in Olympic high jumping history, earning a gold medal at age 16 in 1972, and then triumphing again 12 years later at Los Angeles. Meyfarth established Olympic records with each victory.

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The Best Man?

Javier Sotomayor
Javier Sotomayor competes in the 1993 World Championships. Sotomayor gained his first outdoor World Championship gold medal at the event, held in Stuttgart. Mike Powell/Staff/Getty Images

Cuba's Javier Sotomayor first broke the world record by clearing 2.43 meters (7 feet, 11¾ inches) in 1988. In 1993 he improved the mark to 2.45/8-½, which still stands, as of 2015. During his career, he also earned one gold and one silver medal in the Olympics, along with six World Championship gold medals (two outdoors, four indoors).  

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Higher and Higher

Stefka Kostadinova
Stefka Kostadinova, who set the high jump world record in 1987, clears the bar on her way to victory at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Lutz Bongarts/Staff/Getty Images

Bulgarian Stefka Kostadinova set the women's world high jump record in 1987 with a leap measuring 2.09 meters (6 feet, 10¼ inches). Kostadinova went on to win an Olympic gold medal in 1996.

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The High Jump Today

Left to right: Bronze medalist Abderrahmane Hammad, gold medalist Sergey Klyugin and silver medalist Javier Sotomayor on the podium at the 2000 Olympics.
Left to right: Bronze medalist Abderrahmane Hammad, gold medalist Sergey Klyugin and silver medalist Javier Sotomayor on the podium at the 2000 Olympics. Mike Hewitt/Staff/Getty Images

Americans dominated Olympic men's high jumping from 1896 through the 1950s. Today, nations from around the world boast competitive high jumpers, as demonstrated in the 2000 Games, where the high jump medalists came from three different continents. Russian Sergey Klyugin (center, above) won the gold, with Cuban Javier Sotomayor (right) in second and Algerian Abderrahmane Hammad (left) in third.

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Russian Sweep in 2012

Ivan Ukhov
Ivan Ukhov clears the bar during the 2012 Olympic high jump. Ukhov won the competition by clearing 2.38 meters (7 feet, 9½ inches). Michael Steele/Getty Images

Russian athletes won both the men's and women's high jump competition at the 2012 Olympics. Ivan Ukhov won the men's event decisively by clearing 2.38/7-9½ with only one miss. Anna Chicherova won a close women's competition by topping 2.05/6-8½ on her second try.