King reigns supreme in the high jump

The men’s high jump at the Olympic Games of 1928 was a strikingly different event to that of today.

The now ubiquitous Fosbury Flop, perfected by the American jumper Dick Fosbury to great success at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, was many decades away and the jumpers in Holland used a variety of spectacular techniques with which to clear the bar. Many used an elaborate scissor-kick style, which required a remarkable piece of athleticism and agility to clear the formidable heights, with the winner in Amsterdam expected to go close to the magical barrier of two metres.

American Bob King had a technique all of his own. He had had a glittering collegiate career with Stanford and led a strong American field event contingent in Amsterdam. Expectation was high with all but one of the previously contested high jump gold medals going to American athletes.

A 35-man field for the qualifying round prolonged the event into a five-hour marathon by the end, with 18 athletes battling their way through to the final round. The bar reached 1.91m and only five athletes made successful clearances. Japan’s Mikio Oda, who won the triple jump gold medal in Amsterdam, bowing out after failing at that height.

King and two American team-mates remained alongside Frenchman Claude Menard and Simeon Toribio of the Phillipines. While his rivals persisted with the traditional scissor kick, King’s technique gave him the edge. He ran in at an angle, raising his right leg level with the bar before tucking his left underneath. With the bar raised to 1.94m and the officials wrapped up warm in the evening chill, King recorded the only successful clearance but not until the bar performed a nerve-jangling wobble after the American clipped it with his trailing leg