13 March, 2016

Let's hear it for the scissors high jump

I had started working on this post a few days ago. And it was clear from the outset that I was going to talk about the greatest scissors jumper of all time, Iolanda Balas. Then, before I had managed to put the finishing touches on the post we learned the sad news. Iolanda Balas had passed away. So this post is also a tribute to the memory of that great champion.

Since I have already published an article on high jump techniques (focusing of the Fosbury flop which I like to refer to also as the Brill bend) I did not ever think that I would write something on such a primitive technique as the scissors. But then I run accross a post in the Track and Field News forum where somebody was talking about Rolf Beilschmidt who has apparently, during the warm-up of the 1979, Montréal, World Cup jumped over 2.15 m with scissors. Beilschmidt did not manage to grab a medal at this Cup but he was the winner of the 1977 edition. His personal record was 2.31 m and he shares the best high jump decatlhon performance with C. Schenk with an impressive 2.27 m in a decathlon where he scored 7088 points. He was briefly a European record holder in 1978 with 2.29 m. In a video retracing the story of one of the greatest jumpers of all time, Vladimir Yatchenko, one can see Beilschmidt jumping in the 1979 European Indoor Championhsips. Like Yatchenko he was a straddler and his style was as close to perfection as it can get.

The reference to Beilschmidt spurred my interest and I started thinking about the scissors technique. The name that springs to mind first is that of Iolanda Balas. She made her first apparition at the international arena when she won a silver medal at the European Championships of 1954. In 1956 she broke the world record for the first time but failed to grab a medal at the Melbourne Olympics losing at the same time her record.  In 1958 she retook the world record with 1.78 m and improved it a dozen times bringing it to 1.91 m (a record that was broken only in 1971) in 1961. 

Balas winning in Rome

She won the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, the first one with a 14 cm difference from the silver medalist and the second one with 10 cm. From 1957 till her retirement in 1967 she had a winnning streak of 142 competitions, which constitutes also a unique record.

Was Balas' style a pure scissors? I am afraid this is an academic question. One has to go back to the evolution of high jump techniques. While the first high jumpers used a pure scissors technique

soon that technique evolved towards a more horizontal position known as the Lewden scissors (introduced by the french high jumper Pierre Lewden). 

Pierre Lewden

For me there are subtle differences between the Lewden technique and what is known as the eastern (or japanese) cut-off. In fact in his book, Track & Field Omnibook, Ken Doherty distinguishes nine bar-clearance techniques and credits the athlete who invented it:

Modified Scissors (Page, 1887)
Eastern Cut-off (Sweeney, 1895)
Eastern Trail-leg Shift (Oler, 1914)
Eastern Back-to-the-bar (Larson, 1917)
Western Roll (Horine, 1912)
Straddle (Stewart, 1930)
Dive-Straddle (Cruter, 1938)
Flop (Fosbury and/or Brill, 1968)

but unfortunately there is no mention of Lewden. Well, I think that I will excuse Doherty for this omission, be it only for the fact that he does not attribute the flop to Fosbury alone but he does also mention Brill.

A look at Balas' jumps shows clearly an horizontal position when going over the bar, with the upper body leaning towards the run-up area, just like Lewden. 

Balas in Rome

But, in fact, who cares whether Balas jumped in a pure scissors or a cut-off technique? She simply jumped the way she jumped.

But, wait, there is more. While now-a-days all elite jumpers use the Fosbury flop it is not infrequent to see them during warm-ups pass over a low bar using some variant of scissors (usually with a rudimentary technique). Watching them one realises that those jumpers are superbly gifted. By the way, it is remarcable that both Holm and Barshim do not lean their upper body back but rather bend forward, in their effort to lower their centre of mass, something that the scissors specialists do the other way round.

Barshim "scissoring" 2.15 m

So while scissors is a technique of the past as far as high-level competition is concerned, it remains that it is always a pure expression of jumping ability. And when one sees the feline grace of Barshim it is almost as visually pleasing as the best flop-style jump.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting topic--the scissors HJ--fun to see that Barshim also cleared 2.15m with the scissors. Do we know if this is his scissors PR or where this photo was taken of him doing the 2.15?