An excerpt from the book: "An Introduction to the Physics of Sports" by Dr Vassilios M Spathopoulos.
Every single body and thus the athletes themselves, is made up of individual components each of which has its own weight. So our weight is just the sum of individual weights, of components such as our arms, legs, etc. The point, about which the distribution of these individual weights is symmetrical, is the center of gravity of the body. Thus, if a body has more mass distributed in its upper part, the center of gravity will be closer to the top of the body. This applies to humans, as the center of gravity of an average person is located approximately at a height of one meter, thus being above the waist.
There are two properties of the center of gravity that have a great impact on sport. First of all its location is dependent on the shape of the body. So if the same body is to take a different shape, the position of the center of gravity will shift. An athlete that bends his/her legs will lower his/her center of gravity position. This, amongst other things, will result in greater stability, something especially important in sports such as wrestling. Also, and this may sound the strangest, the center of gravity can lie entirely outside the body itself. For example, if the body is hollow it will literally be positioned somewhere in the air. During the Olympic Games in Mexico, in 1968, an, until then unknown athlete, the American Dick Fosbury, came from nowhere to teach the world about both of these properties.
The truly ingenious leap (!) in the technique was that by clearing the bar with his back and by changing the shape of his body, the athlete could clear the bar without his center of gravity having to also clear it. By this change in body shape he was able to move his center of gravity outside his body. The energy required for a jump depends on the maximum height of the center of gravity and so by lowering its position one also lowers the energy required to clear the bar.
About the Author
Dr Vassilios Spathopoulos has a PhD in Aerospace and Electronic Engineering from the University of Glasgow (UK). He has also completed a MSc course in Flight Dynamics at Cranfield University (UK). He currently teaches at the Department of Aircraft Technology, at the Technological Education Institute (TEI) of Chalkis, Greece. See more.