World of Sport

School high jumpers put on amazing display with ancient technique.. but how good could they be?

World of Sport

(Video posted by @riftvalleyrun)

A pair of schoolboy athletes from Kenya have become unlikely internet stars after a video of their school sports day high jump competition hit the internet.

But more than just bring them into the spotlight, it has raised questions about the amazing - and rarely seen - technique that they use to clear the bar.

The unbelievable footage was shot at the local school in the town of Mosoriot in the Rift Valley, and shows the pair producing increasingly better and better high jumps until they are comfortably clearing 2m.

But the most amazing thing of all is that the pair clear the bar using the age-old scissors technique, in which athletes clear the bar by leaping up into a sitting position and whipping their legs over the bar one-by-one, before landing on their feet.

The scissors was used at the first high jump competitions in the 19th century, but was quickly superceded by the western roll and straddle techniques.

The straddle dominated the sport until 1967. That was when a young high school athlete from Oregon by the name of Dick Fosbury invented a new, and much better, way of clearing the bar: the Fosbury Flop.

Fosbury improved his own personal best by 80cm in the space of a year using the technique, which involves a curved run-up followed by a backwards leap allowing the athlete to curl themselves around and over the bar.

In subsequent years the new style of jump was attributed to all sorts of things: Fosbury was a gymnast who studied physics to come up with the new idea, some claimed. Others spread stories that he one-day stumbled on his run-up, and ended up flopping over the bar backwards.

The man himself admits that neither story was true, and that it was something that just "evolved gradually and naturally", probably as a result of the relatively recent introduction of the landing mat, according to a Sports Illustrated interview with the legend.

Regardless of its origin, nobody could doubt that the radical new approach made him unstoppable. The new way of jumping effectively allowed the athlete to use less energy to clear the same height, since the jumper's highest point off the ground need not be much more than a few centimetres higher than the bar.

By contrast, the scissor technique requires the jumper to get their head and torso well above the level of the bar. As any physicist will tell you, that's wasting energy unnecessarily. Simply put, an athlete using the scissors technique needs to expend more of his or her power and strength to clear the bar than they would need to using the Fosbury Flop. And since the limiting factor on top athletes is their power and strength, that means you're not jumping to your full potential.

Fosbury went on to win the Olympic gold the next year, after which the rest of the high jump community quickly copied his technique. The sport has never looked back.

So could the two unknown athletes featured in this video become future high jump gold medallists? Without switching to the Fosbury Flop it would be impossible, and for now at least their lack of a rubber crash mat to land on is stopping them from even trying.

Yet the sheer natural speed, spring, timing and all-round athleticism demonstrated by the duo suggests that they could be contenders pretty quickly if they are given a chance to train at a venue with proper facilities. Just imagine how good these kids could be if they had the chance.

The high jump world record is one of the oldest still standing in the world of athletics: it has not been broken since Cuba's Javier Sotomayor leapt 2.45m back in 1993.

But just as Wilson Kipketer and David Rudisha eventually came to beat Seb Coe's iconic and almost-equally long-lived 800m world record, it seems that two more African athletes could be set to move another of the most famous marks in athletics on to the next level.

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This is at a high school track meet in the Rift Valley of Kenya in the town of Mosoriot. February, 2013.

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