Men's High Jump World Records

The World Record Progression From 1912 Until Today

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Javier Sotomayor set three world high jump records. Mike Powell/Getty Images

The high jump was probably the most fluid track and field event of the 20th century, as the common jumping technique changed several times. Indeed, George Horine, who recorded the first high jump world record accepted by the IAAF, was a pioneer of the Western Roll jumping style. Horine approached from the side, kicked up the leg nearest to the bar, cleared the bar face up and then rolled in the air to land face down in the sand pit used at that time.

Competing at the Western U.S. Olympic tryout meet in 1912, Horine cleared the bar set – in non-Metric units – at 6 feet 7 inches, a bit higher than 2 meters. The mark was rounded down to an even 2 meters in the record book, however.

The next four high jump world record-holders – all Americans – also used the Western Roll or a close variation. Edward Beeson cleared 2.02/6-7½ in 1914. Harold Osborn, best known for winning gold medals in both the high jump and the decathlon at the 1924 Olympics, set a world high jump mark of 2.03/6-8 at an AAU meet earlier that year. Walter Marty broke the mark twice, in 1933 and 1934, topping out at 2.06/6-9.

Straddling the Bar

At the 1936 U.S. Olympic Trials, Cornelius Johnson used the Western Roll to clear a world-record height of 2.07/6-9½, while Dave Albritton employed the slightly different straddle technique to jump the same height. Albritton’s approach run was similar to the Western Roll, but after the takeoff he began the roll earlier, clearing the bar face down.

In 1937, after the elimination of the anti-diving rule, American Melvin Walker leaped a record 2.09/6-10¼ using a Western Roll variation in which his head went over the bar before his feet. Americans continued to dominate the high jump as Lester Steers improved the mark to 2.11/6-11 in 1941, using the straddle technique.

Steers’ record survived until 1953, making him the longest-tenured record-holder up to that time. American Walt Davis, who went on to play professional basketball, employed the Western Roll/dive technique to clear 2.12/6-11½. Three years later, Charles Dumas began an era of straddle domination and broke through 7 feet by improving the mark to 2.15/7-¾.

In 1957, Russia’s Yuri Stepanov became the first non-American to own the men’s world high jump record as he cleared 2.16/7-1. His accomplishment was controversial because he wore unusual – but legal – thick-soled shoes that some believed acted as a springboard. The shoes were soon banned by the IAAF, but Stepanov’s record stood.

The U.S. grabbed the world mark back in 1960 as John Thomas began his run of success. Thomas cleared 2.17/7-1½ twice in 1960, then set two more records that year, peaking at 2.22/7-3½. Russia’s Valeriy Brumel was even more prolific, setting six world records from 1961-63. He improved the mark by 1 centimeter each time, topping out at 2.28/7-5¾. Brumel’s last mark stood for eight years, but Pat Matzdorf brought the record back to American shores by clearing 2.29/7-6¼ at a World All-Star meet against Soviet athletes in 1971.

The Age of the Flop

Although Dick Fosbury never set a world record, he popularized the modern “flop” technique – clearing the bar face up and head first – by winning the gold at the 1968 Olympics. In 1973, fellow American Dwight Stones became the first flopper to set a world mark, as he cleared 2.30/7-6½. He improved the mark twice in 1976, reaching 2.32/7-7¼. As of 2014, he’s the last American to hold the men’s high jump record.

Ukrainian prodigy Vladimir Yashchenko – competing for the Soviet Union – gave the straddle its last hurrah by setting two world marks. At age 18 he cleared 2.33/7-7¾ at a USA-USSR junior dual meet in 1977 and then topped 2.34/7-8¼ the following year. Every record-holder after Yashchenko used the flop style.

In May 1980, Poland’s Jacek Wszola and West Germany’s 18-year-old Dietmar Mogenburg cleared 2.35/7-8½ at separate meets, one day apart.

But they only shared the record for two months before East Germany’s Gerd Wessig became the first man to set the high jump mark at the Olympics, clearing 2.36/7-9, with Wszola taking the silver medal as he watched his record vanish.

China’s Zhu Jianhua set three high jump marks in 1983-84, peaking at 2.39/7-10. A pair of Soviet athletes improved the record in 1985, as Rudolf Povarnitsyn cleared 2.40/7-10½ in August, and then Igor Paklin, born in what is now Kyrgyzstan, topped 2.41/7-11 in September. Palkin’s mark survived for almost two years until Sweden’s Patrik Sjoberg cleared 2.42/7-11¼ in 1987.

Sotomayor Begins His Reign

Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor could not compete in the 1988 Olympics because his native Cuba boycotted the event. So he did the next best thing, clearing 2.43/7-11/¾ and breaking the world mark at a meet in Salamanca, Spain, four days before the Seoul Olympics began. Sotomayor cleared 2.44/8-0 during the Central American and Caribbean Championships in 1989, and then improved the mark to 2.45/8-½, back at Salamanca in 1993. Sotomayor took just four jumps at his final record-breaking meet, clearing 2.32, 2.38 and then topping 2.45 on his second try. As of 2014, he’s the longest-reigning men’s high jump world record-holder, and the only man to clear 8 feet.

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