As London gets set to host the Olympics this summer, I got thinking about the history of Olympic jumping. London has been the setting for two previous Olympic Games, in 1948 and way back in 1908. The 1908 games featured two events long since dropped from the Olympic schedule, but nonetheless relevant to the contemporary parkour practitioner – the standing high jump, and standing long jump.

As the name suggests, the events consisted of multiple attempts to generate the largest distance in a jump – vertically or horizontally – with no run up, or momentum. The standing high jump is not so easily transferable to training in the present day, as it required a backwards flop onto a crash mat, rather like the high jump today, but taking off from two feet, and with no run up.

I will concentrate instead, then, on the standing long jump. Back in the day, this must have resembled very closely a traceur’s precision jump, with the participant attempting to maximise the distance jumped at ground level, but without the traceur’s risk of missing the railing or wall on which he or she intends to land.

An American named Raymond Ewry (pictured above) took the gold medal in this event on the 20th of July, 1908, with a standing long jump of 3.33m. Silver and Bronze medals went to distances of 3.24 and 3.23m respectively. The other day, while running in the park, I took a few minutes at the end of my session to attempt the standing long jump. I managed just about 3m, though my measurement was somewhat imprecise…

In a video on youtube, freerunner Pip Anderson performs a precision jump onto a kerb over a distance of 11 feet, or 3.35m. That would have been enough to give him the gold medal that July day back in 1908.

I, on the other hand, would have come way down the list in about 25th place (out of 25). Still, given my chances of participating in anything in London 2012, I like to feel that had I been born around 1885, and done a spot of parkour in my spare time, I might have at least been able to enter the Olympics!

My challenge to fellow traceurs reading is, therefore, to ‘jump back in time’ and have a go at the 1908 Olympic gold medal distance for standing long jump – 3.33m. You can measure this out roughly using your shoes. If you wear a size 9 shoe, your total shoe length should be about 12 inches, or 30cm. So if you can jump (clear) 11 shoe lengths, the gold medal would have been yours. This challenge could also be done as a training exercise week on week, with (hopefully) an extension over time of the maximum distance you can manage from standing.

Of course, back in 1908 it was more or less considered cheating if you trained at your event prior to participating. At least, that was the British view. This was also probably the reason why we only managed about 10th place in that particular event.

In other sports, simply being in the right country for the event gave the British athletes an advantage over their competitors from other countries, many of whom had to make long and arduous journeys by rail and steam boat just to get to London. Some of them probably never even arrived in time to take part.

In the 400m, a British runner named Wyndham Halswelle was the only person competing in the event, since the other three runners (yes, there seems to have been only four competitors in total!) were all American and refused to run due to objections over a rule change by the British judges.

 This is apparently the only time in the history of the Olympics where a single competitor has participated in a medal event alone, thereby guaranteed the gold medal simply for finishing. The competition in London might be a bit tougher this time round. But I still like the idea of being able to manage an Olympic distance in jumping… even if I need to go back in time more than a century to make it happen!