The high jump isn’t just about how far you can get your feet off the ground — it’s an exact science. Athletes must clear the bar, which is usually at least 2.3 metres tall, without knocking it, a feat which is both technically challenging and physically demanding.
Xenos Yang Qiyu, a high jump record holder at the Inter-school competitions, has learned to combine sport and physics to help him “fly” over the bar.
Having broken the record and won gold in the A-grade boys’ high jump with 1.98 metres at the 2015-2016 Division One Inter-School Athletics Competition, Xenos cinched the gold medal again at this year’s contest in February despite leg injuries, with a leap of 1.90 metres.
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“Unlike a vertical bounce, the high jump takes a series of complex techniques,” says the 18-year-old athlete from Wah Yan College, Kowloon. “The sport is generally divided into three steps – approach run, takeoff and bar clearance. These steps require a great deal of balance and agility.”
The Fosbury Flop is a common style among all high jumpers. Named after the athlete who first used this technique, Dick Fosbury, it involves clearing the bar backwards to gain more height. But each athlete also has their own approach. Another innovation is to run in a 90-degree curve before takeoff.
Xenos says that finding his rhythm in his approach run is essential for a controlled take-off.
“Every athlete is different. Some prefer running fast but others become slow runners. For me, I need to control my speed so that my take-off position is straight and rigid. This converts the horizontal power into the vertical energy for takeoff,” he says.
While running, Xenos swings his arms to generate more energy, then launches from his right leg.
Once in the air, Xenos can’t simply leave things to gravity. He must coordinate every movement, lifting his hips and thighs and arching his back. He also raises his arms and legs in order to control his direction, then rotates his body for a smooth landing.
Xenos is wary of putting the bar too high, as it means rethinking his strategies.
“A slight change of the bar means you can’t use the same approach to jump. I need to adjust my techniques, such as moving my hips and legs higher at the takeoff point,” he says.
Xenos admits he wasn’t satisfied with his result at this year’s Inter-school competition, and is looking forward to being back in full physical health and at the top of his game. His ultimate goal is to represent Hong Kong at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
While some athletes describe the bar as their enemy, the teen champion has some advice on how to overcome this mindset.
“Don’t waste the time on thinking how high the bar is, as it’ll only make you stressed. Use the time to visualise your running, takeoff and bar clearance movements” he says.
Who is your favourite athlete?
Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi, who won a gold medal in the high jump at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016. He is famous for his arm-leg coordination while jumping over the bar. He is also good at controlling his speed in his approach run, so that he can push off and clear the bar smoothly.
If you could have the abilities of any animal for one competition, which do you choose and why?
Leopards, because of their agility, speed and control. With these abilities, I could coordinate my movements more efficiently and jump higher.
Which fictional character would you choose as your teammate?
I would want Hajime Kindaichi from the Japanese manga series, The Kindaichi Case Files. He’s a thoughtful, meticulous and fair-minded detective, who can always give me a plan of how I can clear the bar in a perfect way.
What food would you never give up?
Durians. Despite their strong odour, I like the distinct bittersweet taste.