Greatest High Jumpers of All Time
Few things in sports are as awe-inspiring as the high jump. It is one of those athletic feats that never ceases to amaze us, and the evolution of the sport has been fascinating to watch.
In the late 1960s, a sweeping change in technique brought the high jump to another level. High jumpers continue to raise the bar on the world's biggest stages. But over the last decade, doping scandals have rocked its foundation. That doesn't take away from high jump history, and the future remains bright.
These are the greatest high jumpers of all time.
30. Sorin Matei
Born: July 6, 1963
Birthplace: Bucharest, Romania
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (1990)
Olympics: Moscow 1980 (Did Not Medal), Seoul 1988 (DNM), Barcelona 1992 (DNM)
Bottom line: If you were building the perfect high jumper, the height you might shoot for would be around 6-foot-4 or two to three inches taller. The last three Olympic gold medal winners have been at least 6-foot-4, and world record holder Javier Sotomayor is also 6-4.
That's why it's so exciting when we see shorter athletes become dominant, like 6-foot former Romanian star Sorin Matei, who cleared 7-foot-10 in 1990 and participated in three Olympic Games for Romania in 1980, 1988 and 1992.
29. Vyacheslav Voronin
Born: April 5, 1974
Birthplace: Vladikavkaz, Russia
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (2000)
Olympics: Sydney 2000 (DNM), Athens 2004 (DNM), Beijing 2008 (DNM)
Bottom line: Vyacheslav Voronin was always among the world's best high jumpers throughout his lengthy career. He could just never seem to put together the performance he needed when it mattered most — the Olympics.
Voronin competed in three consecutive Olympic games for Russia and probably had his best shot to medal in 2000, when he was coming off back-to-back gold medals in the 1999 World Championships and 2000 European Indoor Championships.
But he finished 10th at the Sydney Games.
28. Andriy Protsenko
Born: May 20, 1988
Birthplace: Kherson, Ukraine
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (2014)
Olympics: London 2012 (DNM), Rio de Janeiro 2016 (DNM)
Bottom line: Andriy Protsenko has been competing professionally since he was 19 years old, but he has come up just short in the Olympics, including a heartbreaking finish in the 2016 Olympics when he finished in fourth place.
Representing the Ukraine, Protsenko has come up just short of the elite high jumpers in the world seemingly throughout his entire career.
In 12 years of international competition, he's never come in first place but has several runner-up finishes, most notably at the European Championships in 2014 and the European Indoor Championships in 2019.
27. Dragutin Topic
Born: March 12, 1971
Birthplace: Belgrade, Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia)
Best career jump: 7 feet, 9 1/2 inches (1993)
Olympics: Barcelona 1992 (DNM), Atlanta 1996 (DNM), Sydney 2000 (DNM), Athens 2004 (DNM), Beijing 2008 (DNM), London 2012 (DNM)
Bottom line: Where do we even begin with Dragutin Topic?
Competing first for Yugoslavia and then for Serbia on the international stage, Topic has had one of the longest careers in high jump history and participated in six consecutive Olympic games from 1992 to 2012. At the London Olympics, he competed at 41 years old.
Topic never medaled, but he makes this list because he competed in six Olympics. That's incredible. The closest he ever came was a fourth-place finish at the 1996 Olympics.
26. Bohdan Bondarenko
Born: Aug. 30, 1989
Birthplace: Kharkiv, Ukraine
Best career jump: 7 feet, 11 1/4 inches (2014)
Olympics: London 2012 (DNM), Rio de Janeiro 2016 (Bronze)
Bottom line: Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko is one of the tallest high jumpers in history at 6-foot-5, but he was a victim of circumstance with regard to his Olympic career.
Like most high jumpers, Bondarenko was in his prime in his early 20s and at his very best directly following the 2012 Olympics, where he took seventh place.
In his next six major international competitions, Bondarenko reeled off four straight gold medals, including the 2013 World Championships and was capped by a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.
25. Steve Smith
Born: March 29, 1973
Birthplace: Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Best career jump: 7 feet, 9 1/2 inches (1994)
Olympics: Barcelona 1992 (DNM), Atlanta 1996 (Bronze)
Bottom line: Standing just 6-foot-1, Steve Smith has owned the British records for indoor and outdoor high jump since the early 1990s.
Smith made the finals of the 1992 Olympics at just 19 years old but fell flat in the finals and finished in 12th place. Smith found his groove over the next few years and placed in the top three in his next four major international competitions.
In 1996, Smith won a bronze medal and became the first British man to medal in the high jump at the Olympics since Con Leahy in 1908.
24. Zhu Jianhua
Born: May 29, 1963
Birthplace: Shanghai, China
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 inches (1984)
Olympics: Los Angeles 1984 (Bronze), Seoul 1988 (DNM)
Bottom line: The story of high jumper Zhu Jianhua makes it seem like being an elite athlete in China might not be very much fun.
The People's Republic of China had never won an Olympic medal before 1984, but despite Jianhua dominating high jump competitions throughout Asia in the years leading up to those games, his bronze medal in Los Angeles wasn't met with the acclaim you might think.
Instead, angry fans sought out Jianhua's home, smashed in the windows and looted his belongings. No Chinese high jumper has medaled since Jianhua.
23. Rudolf Povarnitsyn
Born: June 13, 1962
Birthplace: Votkinsk, Udmurtia (republic in Russia)
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (1985)
Olympics: Bronze (Seoul 1988)
Bottom line: The Soviet Union found an uncut gem of a high jumper in Rudolf Povarnitsyn when he came out of nowhere to set the world record in the summer of 1985.
Povarnistyn also is unique jumper because it appears that his first major international competition was at the 1988 Summer Olympics, where he won a bronze medal.
His career intertwined with the end of the Cold War, and he was eventually able to represent his native Ukraine in international competitions for several years, then eventually became an elected official in the country.
22. Dwight Stones
Born: Dec. 6, 1953
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
Best career jump: 7 feet, 8 inches (1984)
Olympics: Munich 1972 (Bronze), Montreal 1976 (Bronze), Los Angeles 1984 (DNM)
Bottom line: Dwight Stones had one of the longest careers of any high jumper, spanning 16 years and 19 outdoor and indoor national championships.
Stones won his first medal at just 18 years old when he brought home the bronze at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and the rest of his career shows he came very close to being the only high jumper in Olympic history to win four medals.
Stones was the favorite to win gold in 1976 but took bronze, the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and he finished one spot out of the medal stand in fourth place in the 1984 Olympics.
21. Sergey Klyugin
Born: March 24, 1974
Birthplace: Kineshma, Russia
Best career jump: 7 feet, 7 1/2 inches (1998)
Olympics: Sydney 2000 (Gold)
Bottom line: What a strange career for Sergey Klyugin. He only medaled in two international competitions in his entire career, but one of them was a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
What's more amazing about the gold medal win for Klyugin is that was his final time to medal in an international competition. One year later, he finished in fourth place at the World Championships, then didn't compete for three years.
20. Yuri Tarmak
Born: July 21, 1946
Birthplace: Tallinn, Estonia
Best career jump: 7 feet, 4 1/2 inches (1972)
Olympics: Munich 1972 (Gold)
Bottom line: Yuri Tarmak (or Juri, depending on what part of the world you're in) was a second-generation track and field star in the Soviet Union, following in the footsteps of his father, Aadu Tarmak, a champion discus thrower.
Yuri Tarmak somehow found a way to surpass his father's athletic fame, rising to the top of the high jump world when he won the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where he was the last person to win a gold medal using the straddle technique and not the Fosbury Flop.
19. Matt Hemingway
Born: Oct. 24, 1972
Birthplace: San Pedro, California
Best career jump: 7 feet, 9 1/2 inches (2000)
Olympics: Athens 2004 (Silver)
Bottom line: Matt Hemingway's career was a story in perseverance. The University of Arkansas product and distant relative of GOAT writer Ernest Hemingway didn't make his first Olympic team until he was 32 years old.
When Hemingway, the high jumper, did finally get his chance on the big stage, he came through in a huge way with a silver medal, then dropped one of the great Olympic quotes in history.
"I'm ecstatic about winning the silver (medal)," he said. "You don't lose gold medals. People win them. I won a silver, and Stefan Holm won a gold."
18. John Thomas
Born: March 3, 1941
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts
Died: Jan. 15, 2013, (age 71, Brockton, Massachusetts)
Best career jump: 7 feet, 3 3/4 inches (1960)
Olympics: Rome 1960 (Bronze), Tokyo 1964 (Silver)
Bottom line: For a brief time in the early 1960s, American high jumper John Thomas was one of the most famous athletes in the world.
Thomas literally jumped his way onto the front of sports pages all over the world in 1960 when he became the first person to clear 7 feet on the high jump as a 17-year-old freshman at Boston University.
The rest of Thomas' career would be somewhat defined by his failure in the Olympics, where he won a bronze medal in 1960 and a silver medal in 1964 despite being the odds-on favorite both years.
17. Hollis Conway
Born: Jan. 8, 1967
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (1991)
Olympics: Seoul 1988 (Silver), Barcelona 1992 (Bronze)
Bottom line: Hollis Conway is one of just three Americans to medal twice in the Olympics, along with Dwight Stones and John Thomas.
Conway was actually the top-ranked high jumper in the United States from 1984 to 1991 and in the world in 1990 and 1991, although his bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics was looked at as a disappointment after he won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics.
Conway is one of the shorter elite high jumpers at just a hair over 6 feet and is tied for the record for the highest jump above his own height — 22 1/4 inches.
16. Gerd Wessig
Born: July 16, 1959
Birthplace: Lubz, Germany
Best career jump: 7 feet, 8 3/4 inches (1980)
Olympics: 1980 Moscow (Gold)
Bottom line: Gerd Wessig came out on top in one of the greatest high jump duals in track and field history, edging defending Olympic champion Jacek Wzsola in the finals of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
Competing for East Germany, Wessig had to become the first person to set a high jump world record in the Olympics to beat Poland's Wzsola. Wessig's world record stood for three years, and his Olympic record stood for eight years.
Wessig, who is 6-foot-7, tried to switch to the decathlon after winning the gold medal but found little success there and never competed in another Olympics.
15. Andrey Silnov
Born: Sept. 9, 1984
Birthplace: Shakhty, Rostov Oblast, Russia
Best career jump: 7 feet, 9 1/2 inches (2005)
Olympics: Beijing 2008 (Gold)
Bottom line: It's OK if you're a little suspect of Andrey Silnov's gold medal in the high jump at the 2008 Olympics. We are, too.
Silnov's one big advantage seemed to be his height, at 6-foot-6, because his career seemingly materialized out of nowhere. It began in 2006 when he joined the Russian national team and made his first big splash by winning the European championships that year, then finishing as runner-up at the World Athletics Final and the World Cup.
Silnov was implicated as one of the major figures in Russia's ongoing doping scandal in 2019, while serving as his federation's vice president, and received a four-year ban.
14. Hennadiy Avdyeyenko
Born: Nov. 4, 1963
Birthplace: Odessa, Ukraine
Best career jump: 7 feet, 9 1/2 inches (1988)
Olympics: 1988 Seoul (Gold)
Bottom line: Hennadiy Avdyeyenko was a virtual unknown when he showed up to the World Championships in 1983 representing the Soviet Union, but he walked away with a gold medal and shocked the international track and field community.
Avdyeyenko would only win one other international competition in his career, but it would be an important one when he brought home the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics.
Many in the track and field community look at this gold medal with an asterisk since the greatest high jumper of all time, Cuba's Javier Sotomayor, was in his prime but didn't compete because of his country's boycott.
13. Artur Partyka
Born: July 25, 1969
Birthplace: Stalowa Wola, Poland
Best career jump: 7 feet, 9 1/2 inches (1996)
Olympics: Seoul 1988 (DNM), Barcelona 1992 (Bronze), Atlanta 1996 (Silver)
Bottom line: Artur Partyka is the greatest high jumper to ever come out of Poland and one of just 21 high jumpers to clear 7-foot-9.
Partyka became known for turning in some of the best performances in his career on the biggest stages. He competed in three consecutive Olympics for Poland and improved each time. He made his debut at just 18 years old in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, won bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, then won Silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Partyka was also great at the end of his career, bringing home his second European Indoor Championships gold medal and only European Championships gold medal in 1998.
12. Charles Dumas
Born: Feb. 12, 1937
Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Died: Jan. 5, 2004, (age 66, Inglewood, California)
Best career jump: 7 feet (1956)
Olympics: Melbourne 1956 (Gold), Rome 1960 (DNM)
Bottom line: Charles Dumas was the first person to clear 7 feet in the high jump and won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics while he was a freshman at Compton College — just one year after he shocked the U.S. track and field community by winning a national championship at the 1955 AAU meet.
Dumas seemed prime to repeat as an Olympic champion in 1960 before suffering a knee injury, and he still finished sixth despite being hurt.
Dumas died of cancer in 2004, at 66 years old, after a long career as an educator and coach.
11. Erik Kynard
Born: Feb. 3, 1991
Birthplace: Toledo, Ohio
Best career jump: 7 feet, 9 1/4 inches (2015)
Olympics: London 2012 (Gold), Rio de Janeiro 2016 (DNM)
Bottom line: If you want to know the impact doping has on track and field, just look at how it impacted the career of former Kansas State star Erik Kynard.
Kynard was at the peak of his powers heading into the 2012 Olympics but couldn't overcome a standout performance by Russian Ivan Ukhov in the finals and came home with the silver medal.
Ukhov was found to be part of a massive doping scandal tied to the Russian Olympic team and stripped of the gold medal, which was retroactively awarded to Kynard almost a decade later — long past Ukhov's cheating cost Kynard millions in endorsement money that could have come with a gold.
10. Jacek Wszola
Born: Dec. 30, 1956
Birthplace: Warsaw, Poland
Best career jump: 7 feet, 7 inches (1975)
Olympics: Montreal 1976 (Gold), 1980 Moscow (Silver)
Bottom line: Jacek Wszola shocked the world by winning the gold medal in the high jump at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal at just 19 years old, propelling himself to international stardom. He followed that with a silver medal in the 1980 Olympics.
Wszola's father, Roman, was a longtime track and field coach in Poland and deserves a great deal of credit for the win in Montreal. Roman wet down the jumping area in Poland ahead of the trip to the Olympics and made Jacek train on it for several days.
When rain hit the day of the high jump finals in 1976, only Jacek was prepared for it.
9. Patrik Sjoberg
Born: Jan. 5, 1965
Birthplace: Gothenburg, Sweden)
Best career jump: 7 feet, 11 1/4 inches (1987)
Olympics: Los Angeles 1984 (Silver), Seoul 1988 (Bronze), Barcelona 1992 (Silver)
Bottom line: Sweden's Patrik Sjoberg is one of the most consistent high jumpers of all time. He held the world record for outdoor once and indoor twice as well as medaling in three consecutive Olympics.
Sjoberg holds a unique piece of history despite never winning a gold medal in the Olympics as the only high jumper to medal in three different Olympic Games.
Sjoberg inspired an entire generation of Swedish high jumpers, including 2004 Olympic gold medal winner Stefan Holm and bronze medal winner Kajsa Bergqvist.
8. Dick Fosbury
Born: March 6, 1947
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon
Best career jump: 7 feet, 4 1/4 inches (1968)
Olympics: Mexico City 1968 (Gold)
Bottom line: There is no debate as to who the single most influential person in the history of the high jump is. It's Oregon native Dick Fosbury, who won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics.
Growing up in Medford, Oregon, Fosbury struggled to clear 5 feet in the high jump using the accepted technique of the time, which was jumping head first over the ball and trying to straddle it with both legs.
Fosbury invented the method used by high jumpers the world over — "The Fosbury Flop." You jump up and backward and kick your legs over the bar. And it works like a charm. Over 90 percent of medal winners since 1972 have used it in the Olympics.
7. Derek Drouin
Born: March 6, 1990
Birthplace: Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (2014)
Olympics: London 2012 (Bronze), Rio de Janeiro 2016 (Gold)
Bottom line: The best high jumper of the modern era, Derek Drouin is still the reigning Olympic champion after bringing home a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics.
Drouin, 6-foot-4, learned to high jump as a kindergartner and was the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal in the high jump since Duncan McNaughton in 1932, which followed Drouin's bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics.
Drouin could move up this list with another medal. The University of Indiana product already is the greatest NCAA high jumper of all time with five national championships.
6. Charles Austin
Born: Dec. 19, 1967
Birthplace: Bay City, Texas
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (1991)
Olympics: Barcelona 1992 (DNM), Atlanta 1996 (Gold)
Bottom line: Standing just a shade over 6 feet, Bay City, Texas, native Charles Austin didn't even attempt his first high jump until he was a senior in high school.
He became an NCAA champion at Texas State and was one of the favorites at the 1992 Olympics before a knee injury set him back, and he finished in eighth place.
Austin used that as motivation and became an Olympic champion in 1996, winning a gold medal with an Olympic record jump of 7-foot-10 that still stands today.
5. Valeriy Brumel
Born: April 14, 1942
Birthplace: Rasvedki, Amur Oblast, Russian Soviet Union
Died: Jan. 26, 2003, (age 60, Moscow, Russia)
Best career jump: 7-foot-6 (1963)
Olympics: Rome 1960 (Silver), Tokyo 1964 (Gold)
Bottom line: Valeriy Brumel was only 18 years old when he won a silver medal in the high jump at the 1960 Olympics, then followed that with a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics when he was just 22 and became one of the most famous athletes in the world.
Following his Olympic gold medal, Brumel cruised through the 1965 season undefeated before tragedy struck when he wrecked his motorcycle and almost had to have his right foot amputated.
Brumel underwent 29 surgeries to save his foot, but his high jump career was effectively over, and he spent the rest of his life as an actor, screenwriter and playwright.
4. Dietmar Mogenburg
Born: Aug. 15, 1961
Birthplace: Leverkusen, West Germany
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 inches (1985)
Olympics: Los Angeles 1984 (Gold), Seoul 1988 (DNM), Barcelona 1992 (DNM)
Bottom line: Dietmar Mogenburg grabbed the international spotlight in the high jump in 1980, when the 18-year-old West German tied Polish high jumper Jacek Wzsola's outdoor world record.
That began a four-year ascent in the track and field world for Mogenburg, who won three gold medals at the European World Championships and culminated in winning the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Mogenburg fell flat in his next two Olympic outings. He finished sixth in 1988 and 27th in 1992.
3. Stefan Holm
Born: May 25, 1976
Birthplace: Forshaga, Sweden
Best career jump: 7 feet, 10 1/4 inches (2005)
Olympics: Sydney 2000 (DNM), Athens 2004 (Gold), Beijing 2008 (DNM)
Bottom line: Stefan Holm grew up idolizing fellow Swedish high jumper Patrik Sjoberg — the only high jumper to medal in three different Olympics — but Holm did what Sjoberg never could when he brought home a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.
Holm, just 5-foot-11, said he got the inspiration to be a high jumper watching Sjoberg on television in the 1988 Olympics. Holm missed matching his idol with two more Olympic medals by the slimmest of margins.
He finished one spot out of a medal at the Olympics twice, coming in at fourth place in both 2000 and 2008.
2. Mutaz Essa Barshim
Born: June 24, 1991
Birthplace: Doha, Qatar
Best career jump: 7 feet, 11 1/2 inches (2014)
Olympics: London 2012 (Bronze), Rio de Janeiro 2016 (Silver)
Bottom line: Mutaz Essa Barshim is a rare high jumping talent. One of the big stories heading into the 2020 Olympics was his pursuit of a gold medal after winning a bronze medal in 2012 and a silver medal in 2016.
Barshim could join Patrik Sjoberg as the only high jumper in Olympic history to win three Olympic medals, although Sjoberg never won gold. Barshim has trained in Poland and Sweden with his coach, Stanislaw Szczyrba, who won a bronze medal in the pole vault at the 2000 Olympics.
Don't be surprised to see Barshim make more history in the future.
1. Javier Sotomayor
Born: Oct. 13, 1967
Birthplace: Limonar, Matanzas, Cuba
Best career jump: 8 feet, 1/2 inch (1993)
Olympics: Barcelona 1992 (Gold), Atlanta 1996 (DNM), Sydney 2000 (Silver)
Bottom line: Cuba's Javier Sotomayor is the greatest high jumper of all time and has held the world record since 1993.
Sotomayor, 6-foot-4, won the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics and the silver medal at the 2000 Olympics and sandwiched an appearance at the 1996 Olympics in which he did not place because of an injury.
Sotomayor's career has an interesting case of sliding doors. What would his medal count have been if Cuba hadn't boycotted the Olympics in 1984 and 1988? It's hard to envision he wouldn't have medaled in one if not both of those.