Olympic High Jump Rules

How High Can You Jump?

Steve Fair/Flickr

The Olympic high jump is a sport that features fast and flexible athletes leaping tall crossbars in a single bound. The high jump can also be a highly dramatic Olympic event in which two centimeters (about three-quarters of an inch) is often the difference between gold and silver.

Equipment and Jumping Area for the Olympic High Jump

  • High jumper’s shoes can have a maximum thickness of 13 millimeters in the sole and 19 millimeters in the heel.
  • The runway is at least 15 meters long.
  • Competitors may place as many as two markers along the runway.
  • The crossbar is 4 meters long.

Rules for the Olympic High Jump

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

The Competition

Athletes 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-breakers are:

  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. The bar is then alternately lowered and raised until only one jumper succeeds at a given height.

Olympic High Jump Technique

High jump technique has changed more than any track and field sport 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 because the mental aspect of the event is just as important as physical talent. High jumpers must employ sound strategy - knowing when to pass and when to jump - and must remain calm and confident as the pressure increases during the later rounds.

Olympic High Jump History

The high jump was one of the sports that was included when the modern Olympic Games began 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.

Before the 1960s, high jumpers generally leaped over the bar feet-first. 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.

When women entered Olympic track and field competition in 1928, the high jump was the women's lone 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, then triumphing again 12 years later at Los Angeles. Meyfarth established Olympic records with each victory.