Kadour Ziani and Javier Sotomayor: Who’s the Greatest?

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.

10 thoughts on “Kadour Ziani and Javier Sotomayor: Who’s the Greatest?

  • That’s a great point Ron. Certainly the two are not directly comparable because straight up vertical leap also allows a two-footed takeoff. Very hard to compare. Both amazing athletes!

  • Not sure. I’m also not sure Guiness would count as official. Certainly not like the bodies involved in certifying snow Sotomayor’s records.

  • Guinness are the primary international authority on the verification and cataloging of world records, I just looked on Wikipedia 😀
    What official body verified sotomayors record? I’m struggling to find anything official and the forums I’ve looked on are full of people arguing about everything and agreeing on nothing. Thanks

  • Well, if it’s on Wikipedia, it must be so! No, seriously, Guinness is a for-hire organization that will put together a “world record” event for anyone who wants to set a world record. They are financially incentivized, but they do have great marketing. Check out this episode of Planet Money called “Is Record Breaking Broken” which lays it all out. https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/09/20/552203402/episode-795-is-record-breaking-broken

    I just can’t take Guinness that seriously compared to something like the IAAF which certifies the Sotomayor record. Guinness is basically on the level of someone setting a record on a TV show of some sort. But it’s better than baseless braggging, which is what seems to be the “standard” for most vertical jump “records.” In any case, Guinness currently says there is “no current record holder” for either standing or running vertical leap (registration required to search records). So that’s no help.

    Ziani…. I have never been able to find anything solid. Since your question, though, I’ve looked at hundreds of his dunk videos and I’m starting to think his record is total BS. He almost never gets his head legitimately above the rim. It looks like it sometimes, but I think those are mostly due to camera angle. The only exception I see is this one, where it looks like the head is a legit 2 inches above the rim.
    https://youtu.be/7bpQZJgZQEk?t=56s

    This guy appears to be the same height (48″ to the rim with shoes) and he’s only claiming 50″.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVmi6gjMdvs

    Ziani is getting that high stooping to pick up a ball and dunking, so we could imagine another couple of inches if jumping unencumbered, but that still leaves him 8″ short of his claim.

    This guy claims 59″ and he’s 6’4″ and doesn’t look like he gets any higher than Ziani (who is 5″ shorter). But again, just a claim with no proof.
    https://youtu.be/RBpBy8Ss62g?t=5m43s

    Unfortunately, there’s no standards body that recognizes “vertical jump” records and it’s really hard to know whether to believe any of these guys except the guy in the second video who measured distance from the rim to his head and then easily knocks the foam roller off. That’s a legit 50″ and maybe I should just declare him the record holder until someone presents *evidence* for one of these other claims.

    Now Sotomayor is a different deal. His records were set in international track and field competitions sanctioned by the IAAF. His records have the same stature as Olympic records, which is pretty much a gold standard (pardon the pun). There can be no questioning his record.

  • So what do you think? Should I change this page and take down the Ziani record and replace it with the legit 50″ that is documented, and then just challenge anyone who disagrees to provide documentation in the form of either video or a number from an official standards organization? I think that’s fair.

  • Sounds fair to me, I spent time last night looking at videos and reading a little and there were people putting several names, past and present forward. When I tried to verify any of the heights I couldn’t find anything useful. If you make a claim it needs to be verified and documented or its just talk. The suggestion you made to go with the official 50″ makes perfect sense. I’m from the UK and my knowledge on this subject isn’t that big but I now know that the sotomayor jump is official and recognised, thanks again for taking the time.
    Danny storr

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