Official Rules for the Olympic High Jump

Olympic High Jump
Steve Fair/Flickr

The Olympic high jump is a track and field event in which fast and flexible athletes attempt to leap over a tall crossbar in a single bound. It is one of the sports that was included when the modern Olympic Game began in 1896. Since then, the rules have largely remained the same, although high jump technique has greatly evolved.

Equipment and Jumping Area

The jumping area includes a runway that is at least 15 meters (49 feet) long, a crossbar that is four meters (13 feet) long, and a crash mat. To complete the high jump, jumpers run toward the bar and clear it using a type of jump known as the Fosbury Flop. In the past, athletes used a variety of different jumps to clear the bar, including the straddle technique and the scissors jump. A jump is considered successful if the jumper clears the bar without dislodging it.

High jumper’s shoes can have a maximum thickness of 13 millimeters in the sole and 19 millimeters in the heel.

The High Jump

The jump itself requires great attention to form and technique. In the Olympic competition, there are several rules that all jumpers must follow:

  • Jumpers must takeoff on one foot.
  • A successful jump is one in which the crossbar remains in place once the jumper has left the landing area.
  • At their own discretion, competitors may begin jumping at the height announced by the chief judge or may pass.
  • Three consecutive missed jumps, at any height or combination of heights, will eliminate a jumper from the competition.


Athletes who participate in the high jump must achieve an Olympic-qualifying height and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three competitors per country may compete in the high jump. Twelve jumpers participate in the Olympic high jump final. Qualification results do not carry over into the final.

The victory goes to the jumper who clears the greatest height during the final. If two or more jumpers tie for first place, the tie-breaker is determined by which jumper has:

  1. The fewest misses at the height at which the tie occurred.
  2. The fewest misses throughout the competition.

If the event remains tied, the jumpers have a jump-off, beginning at the next greater height. Each jumper has one attempt to clear the crossbar. The bar is then alternately lowered and raised until only one jumper succeeds at a given height.


High jump technique has changed more than that of any other track and field event since the 1896 Athens Games. Jumpers have gone over the bar feet-first. They've gone over head-first, belly-down. Today's elite jumpers employ the head-first, belly-up technique popularized by Dick Fosbury in the 1960s.

It's fitting that Olympic high jumpers go over the bar head-first​ since mental strength is just as important as physical talent. High jumpers must use sound strategy—knowing when to pass and when to jump—and must remain calm and confident as the pressure increases during the final rounds.