People often wonder who has the greater vertical leap, Kadour Ziani or Javier Sotomayor. Javier Sotmayor Sanabria is probably the greatest high jump jumper of all time. He has held the world record in the high jump since 1998, making it one of the oldest records in track and field. Kadour Ziani is often cited as the world record record holder in the vertical jump, with a whopping 60-inch vertical leap.
Obviously, these are very different events. In the high jump, the jumper has to get his whole body over the bar so he can’t just jump purely for height. It’s also a a highly regulated Olympic event overseen by recognized international rules and judges. Pure standing or running vertical leap is a less formal event and certainly not something with the high level of international competition and very specific rules. So comparing performances is a bit absurd, but hey, what’s wrong with absurd?
So the easiest way to compare is the ask what the center of gravity displacement for each athlete is. In other words, we’re not interested so much in how high off the ground someone gets because, put simply, if measuring based on the feet, Sotomayor is the clear winner. If measuring based on the head, Ziani is the clear winner. That’s because a high jumper who jumps 2.45 meters (8 ft, 1/2 inch), Sotomayor’s record, does not raise the center of gravity that much, because he goes from a standing position to a layout position. A good high jumper with good technique needs to get his center of gravity 2cm over the bar in order to clear it. In theory, with perfect technique, it could go lower because with the arched back and bent knees, the center of gravity is outside the body (that is below the small of the back). We’ll assume that on his world record jump, Sotomayor raised his center of gravity only to the height of the bar.
Generally, physiologists expect the center of gravity (COG) for a male to be at that “sacral promontory” at roughly 55% of height. Sotomayor being 193cm (6’3″), his standing COG would be 106.5 cm. So on his record jump, he displaced his center of gravity by 138.5cm (54.5 inches).
Obviously, this is a rough guess since the 55% rule is just a rule of thumb, and could be off by some, but it’s well short of 60″. But then Kadour Ziani almost certainly didn’t achieve a 60″ COG displacement on his record jump either because you have to take into account the arm movements, so we shave some inches off for that, but of course the same is perhaps true for Sotomayor.
So for pure vertical COG displacement, Ziani probably still wins, but you have to remember that the high jump is a way more complex jump. The jumper has a precise target and has to achieve rotation around two axes (essentially both twisting and flopping) and has to get every body part of a bar without knocking it. So though I think Kadour Ziani is one of the most incredible jumpers of all time, I admire the Sotomayor record even more.