high jump

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An established athletic discipline in its own right, based on clearing a bar suspended by upright posts in an unassisted jump from a running approach (in several earlier Olympics, competitors jumped from a standing position), and also featuring in the decathlon and the heptathlon. With its organized roots in mid-19th-century England, there is scant evidence of high jumping as an established activity in earlier societies and cultures of the West, including at the ancient Olympics. High jumping has given the history of sporting techniques one of its most famous names: at the 1968 Mexico Olympics US jumper Richard Fosbury superseded the orthodox ‘straddle’ technique, launching himself to the Olympic title in a head-first leap with his back to the bar and so revolutionizing the event with his ‘Fosbury flop’. US and Soviet or Eastern European jumpers have dominated men's and women's Olympic events. Other forms of jumping showing the profile and appeal of the activity within a particular culture include gusimbuka (Rwandan high jumping). This indigenous practice of young Rwandan men was photographed by Adolf Friedrich von Mecklenburg's photographer on an anthropological expedition in 1907. This famous picture portrayed an airborne shorts-clad young Tutsi male straddling a make-do rope and hurtling above the heads of two formally dressed Europeans. John Bale's Imagined Olympians (2002) and his Sports Geography (2nd edn, 2003) explore this—at least to modern Western eyes—extraordinary image, as both an expression of the Tutsi's sense of physical superiority over the majority Hutu, and an ordering of ‘African corporeality’ by the colonialist explorer.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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