The First recorded High Jump was in Scotland within the 1800s. Early jumpers used either a straight on approach or a scissors technique.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, techniques began to modernise, beginning with the Irish-American Michael Sweeney’s japanese cut-off. By taking off just like the scissors, however extending his back and flattening out over the bar, Sweeney achieved a a lot of economic clearance and raised global record to 1.97 m (6 foot five 1⁄2 in) in 1895.
Another American, George Horine, developed an even more efficient technique, the Western roll. In this style, the bar again is approached on a diagonal, but the inner leg is used for the take-off, while the outer leg is thrust up to lead the body sideways over the bar. Horine increased the world standard to 2.01 m (6 ft 7 in) in 1912. His technique was predominant through the Berlin Olympics of 1936, in which the event was won by Cornelius Johnson at 2.03 m (6 ft 8 in).
American and Soviet jumpers held the playing field for the next four decades, and they pioneered the evolution of the straddle technique. Straddle jumpers took off as in the Western roll, but rotated their (belly-down) torso around the bar, obtaining the most economical clearance up to that time. Straddle-jumper Charles Dumas was the first to clear 2.13 m (or 7 feet) in 1956, and American John Thomas pushed the world mark to 2.23 m (7 ft 4 in) in 1960. Valeriy Brumel took over the event for the next four years. The elegant Soviet jumper radically sped up his approach run, took the record up to 2.28 metres (7 ft 6 in), and won the Olympic gold medal in 1964, before a motorcycle accident ended his career.
American coaches, including two-time NCAA champion Frank Costello of the University of Maryland, flocked to Russia to learn from Brumel and his coaches. However, it would be a solitary innovator at Oregon State University, Dick Fosbury, who would bring the high jump into the next century. Taking advantage of the raised, softer landing areas by then in use, Fosbury added a new twist to the outmoded Eastern Cut-off. He directed himself over the bar head and shoulders first, sliding over on his back and landing in a fashion which would likely have broken his neck in the old, sawdust landing pits. After he used this Fosbury flop to win the 1968 Olympic gold medal, the technique began to spread around the world, and soon floppers were dominating international high jump competitions. The last straddler to set a world record was Vladimir Yashchenko, who cleared 2.33 m (7 ft 7 1⁄2 in) in 1977 and then 2.35 m (7 ft 8 1⁄2 in) indoors in 1978.
Hurdler 49 has wrote a good article with nice videos on the last great High Jumper to use the Straddle Technique in an age when the Fosbury Flop had become common place.
- The Physics of the Olympic High Jump (scientificamerican.com)
- USA Olympic Gold Medal Winner Dick Fosbury Joins Schulte Sports Marketing & Public Relation’s Roster of Clients (prweb.com)
- Finding Fosbury (jprenext.wordpress.com)
- Veritasium: High Jump History and Physics (milkandcookies.com)
- Remembering Nanette Lusterio (1954-2012) (pinoyathletics.com)