Derek Drouin in the high jump final at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (Getty Images)

High Jump

How it works

Competitors jump unaided and take off from one foot over a four-metre long horizontal bar. They seek to clear the greatest height without knocking the bar to the ground.

All competitors have three attempts per height, although they can elect to ‘pass’, i.e. advance to a greater height despite not having cleared the current one. Three consecutive failures at the same height, or combination of heights, cause a competitor’s elimination.

If competitors are tied on the same height, the winner will have had the fewest failures at that height. If competitors are still tied, the winner will have had the fewest failures across the entire competition. Thereafter, a jump-off will decide the winner.


High jump contests were popular in Scotland in the early 19th century, and the event was incorporated into the first modern Olympics Games in 1896.

Of the field events, the high jump has perhaps undergone the most radical changes of technique. The Eastern Cut-off, Western Roll and Straddle are methods that have been previously used by the world’s elite. However, the Fosbury Flop, which involves going over with the jumper's back to the bar and became possible with the introduction of foam landing beds in the early 1960s and popularised by the 1968 Olympic champion Dick Fosbury, is now pre-eminent.

Did you know

Built up shoes were used by many top jumpers in 1956 and 1957, with soles of up to five centimetres. Yuriy Stepanov from the Soviet Union cleared what was then a world record height of 2.16m in 1957 using such footwear but the IAAF banned these shoes the following year.

Gold standard

Ruth Beitia became Spain's first women's Olympic athletics gold medallist, and the oldest event winner, when she won at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.


Valeriy Brumel

The Soviet jumper set six world records in the event in the space of little more than two years between 1961 and 1963 before winning the gold medal at the 1964 Olympic Games. 

Iolanda Balas

The Romanian won 150 consecutive competitions between 1957 and 1967 and set an unprecedented 14 world records with a variant of the outmoded scissors technique. She also won Olympic gold medals in 1960 and 1964, in Rome and Tokyo respectively, and was inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame in 2012.