The higher they go

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 February, 2008, 12:00am

Setting the bar for excellence

Like the long jump, the name high jump tells you everything you need to know about the event. The high jump is an athletics field event in which competitors have to clear a horizontal bar set at measured heights between two posts. The bar is first set at a low height and then it is moved upwards. A jumper can choose the height at which he or she wants to begin as long as that height is equal or higher than the height set by the event officials. The high jump set-up includes a semi-circular runway allowing the jumper to approach the bar from any angle. After jumping over the bar, the athlete lands in a pit of sand. The current Olympic high jump records to beat in Beijing are 2.39 metres for men (1996 Atlanta) and 2.06m for women (2004 Athens).


1 What is a 'semi-circle'?

a) Two circles joined together

b) A half circle

Mexico: jumping for joy

The choice of Mexico City to host the 1968 Olympic Games was controversial because of the city's high altitude. Mexico City is situated 2,300 metres above sea level and the air there contains 30 per cent less oxygen than at sea level. How would this affect the athletes' performances? Only time would tell.

In sports like long-distance races that required endurance as well as speed, the lack of oxygen had a negative effect on many results and there were disappointments all around. But the high altitude led to world records in races under 400m, the hurdles and jumping events. The Mexico City's spectacular men's long jump record of 8.90m would not be broken for an amazing 22 years. Beijing is 43.5m above sea level (compare that with Mexico City's 2,300m) so lack of oxygen should not be a problem once the pollution has been sorted out.


2 What is 'endurance'?

a) physical or mental difficulty that lasts a long time

b) mental speed in sorting out problems

The Fosbury Flop

Nobody had heard of the American athlete Dick Fosbury before the 1968 Olympics. At the time, athletes did the high jump by taking off from the ground with their inside foot and swinging their outside foot up and over the bar. Fosbury did the jump in a new way. He ran up to the bar at great speed, took off on his right foot, and twisted his body to clear the bar head first with his back to the actual bar.

There was nothing illegal about this technique and everybody watched in amazement as Fosbury, 21, reached a record 2.24 metres. In the next few years, most high jumpers adopted the Fosbury Flop to get over the bar. Besides winning a gold medal, Fosbury had introduced a sporting technique that made all other high-jumping practices impractical and out of date. The Fosbury Flop had revolutionised high jumping and was here to stay.


3 The verb 'to flop' means ...

a) to jump very high

b) to fall to the ground loosely

Olympic Fact File

Which facts about the 1968 Mexico City Olympics do you think are TRUE and which do you think are FALSE?

1 The Olympic Cauldron was lit for the first time by a woman athlete.

2 Women took part in the shooting events for the first time.

3 The Olympic mascot was a kangaroo.

4 The Fosbury Flop was introduced for the first time in high jump.

5 The winning men's long jump was so long that the optical reader couldn't go far enough to measure it.

6 An American teenager was the first swimmer to win three individual gold medals at an Olympic Games.

7 Electronic timing devices were used for the first time.

8 The marathon was cancelled because of a thunderstorm.