Debbie Brill
Debbie Brill 1972 b.JPG
Brill in 1972
Personal information
Full nameDebbie Arden Brill
Born (1953-03-10) March 10, 1953 (age 70)
Mission, British Columbia, Canada
SportHigh jump
Achievements and titles
Highest world ranking1st (1979)
Personal best(s)
  • High jump (indoor): 1.99 m (6 ft 6.3 in) (1982, Former WIR)
  • High jump (outdoor): 1.98 m (6 ft 6.0 in) (1984, NR)
Medal record
Women's athletics
Representing  Canada
IAAF World Indoor Games
Bronze medal – third place 1985 Paris High jump
Pan American Games
Gold medal – first place 1971 Cali High jump
Bronze medal – third place 1979 San Juan High jump
Commonwealth Games
Gold medal – first place 1970 Edinburgh High jump
Silver medal – second place 1978 Edmonton High jump
Gold medal – first place 1982 Brisbane High jump
Silver medal – second place 1977 Sofia High jump
Americas (orthographic projection).svg
IAAF World Cup
Gold medal – first place 1979 Montreal High jump
Bronze medal – third place 1977 Dusseldorf High jump

Debbie Arden Brill, OC (born March 10, 1953) is a Canadian high jump athlete who at the age of 16 became the first North American woman to clear 6 feet. Her reverse jumping style—which is now almost exclusively the technique of elite high jumpers—was called the Brill Bend and was developed by her when she was a child, around the same time as Dick Fosbury was developing the similar Fosbury Flop in the US. Brill won gold in the high jump at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, and at the Pan American Games in 1971. She finished 8th in the 1972 Summer Olympics, then quit the sport in the wake of the Munich massacre, returning three years later. She won gold at the IAAF World Cup in 1979, and at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. She has held the Canadian high jump record since 1969, and set the current record of 1.99 meters in 1982, a few months after giving birth to her first child.


Brill was born in Mission, British Columbia, one of five children of a Canadian father and an American mother.[1] She developed her style of jumping as a preteen on the family farm when her father made a landing pit containing foam rubber. Fifty years later she described it as "a natural extension of what my body was telling me to do. It was physical intuition; it wasn't anything taught."[2] The technique, which involved jumping over the bar with her face to the sky and landing on her back, was dubbed the "Brill bend". Her clubmates thought it was unique until they learned that an older American athlete, Dick Fosbury, was becoming known for using the same technique.[2]

Brill started competing provincially in British Columbia in 1966, at age 13. The following year, she competed at the Canadian national level. Her first international competition was in 1968, at age 15. In 1970, at age 17, she became the first woman in the western hemisphere to jump 6 ft (1.83 m).[2][3]

Brill has held the Canadian National High Jump record since 1969, establishing her first Canadian High Jump record when she was 16. She set her final Canadian outdoor record in September 1984 with 1.98 metres (6 ft 6 in). Her indoor record of 1.99 metres (6 ft 6 in) was set in 1982.[4] As of 2017, Brill's Canadian records still stand. She won the gold medal at the first Pacific Conference Games in 1969. She would again win the Pacific Conference Games title in 1977.

Brill won the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, and was presented with the gold medal by Queen Elizabeth.[3] She won the 1971 Pan Am Games. Brill came in eighth at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. She campaigned to have the Games stopped after the Munich massacre, and retired after the Games, becoming disillusioned with the Olympic experience.[4] She returned to competition in 1975 and placed 4th at the Pan Am Games. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics she was eliminated after failing three times at the opening height, and was criticized for laughing in a subsequent interview, although she wrote afterwards that she was disappointed by her failure.[5] She placed 3rd at the first World Cup in 1977, and won a silver medal at home in Edmonton, at the 1978 Commonwealth Games. In 1979 Brill won a gold medal in the athletics World Cup held in Montreal, Canada. She was the world's number one high jumper for 1979.

Having been ranked number one in the world by Track and Field News in 1979, Brill was one of the favourites going into the 1980 Olympics which Canada boycotted because of the U.S.S.R.'s military involvement in Afghanistan.[6] In January 1982, Brill established a World Indoor High Jump record of 1.99 meters in Edmonton, Alberta, 5 months after giving birth to her first son, Neil. She has a daughter, Katelin, and a son, Jacob. She is married to a physician, Dr. Douglas Coleman. She was again Commonwealth Champion in 1982 at the games in Brisbane.

From 1970 to 1985, in the annual Track and Field News merit rankings, Brill was ranked in the world's top ten for the high jump twelve times (the exceptions being 1973, 74, 76 and 81; with 76 being the only active year of the four). She was ranked in the top 5 six times. The only female high jumpers with more top ten rankings are Inha Babakova and Stefka Kostadinova, both with thirteen.

In 1983, Brill was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition for being "Canada's premier woman high-jumper".[7] In 2012, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.[8]

In 1999, at the age of 46, Brill broke the world masters record (age 45+) when she cleared 1.76 metres in Gateshead. In 2004, she broke the age 50+ masters record by clearing 1.60 m in Langley. As of 2016, Brill's world age group records still stand.



National titles

Representing  Canada
Year Competition Venue Result Height
1969 Pacific Conference Games Tokyo, Japan 1st 1.71 m
1970 British Commonwealth Games Edinburgh, United Kingdom 1st 1.78 m
1971 Pan American Games Cali, Colombia 1st 1.85 m
1972 Olympic Games Munich, West Germany 8th 1.82 m[9]
1975 Pan American Games Mexico City, Mexico 4th
1976 Olympic Games Montreal, Quebec, Canada no-height
1977 Universiade Sofia, Bulgaria 2nd 1.90 m
Pacific Conference Games Canberra, Australia 1st 1.88 m
1977 World Cup Düsseldorf, Germany 3rd 1.89 m
1978 Commonwealth Games Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 2nd 1.90 m
1979 Pan American Games San Juan, Puerto Rico 3rd 1.85 m
World Cup Montreal, Quebec, Canada 1st 1.96 m
1982 Commonwealth Games Brisbane, Australia 1st 1.88 m
1983 World Championships Helsinki, Finland 6th 1.88 m
1984 Olympic Games Los Angeles, United States 5th 1.94 m
1985 World Indoor Games Paris, France 3rd 1.90 m
1986 Commonwealth Games Edinburgh, United Kingdom 5th 1.88 m

Note: At the 1976 Olympic Games, Brill had three failures at her opening height of 1.75 m in the qualifying round.


  1. ^ Neuhaus, Cable (March 15, 1982). "Debbie Brill Is Still Tops in the High Jump, but Her Personal Best Is a Leap into Motherhood". People. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Hutchins, Aaron (Jun 28, 2014). "'When I first started, I was all gangly and awkward': Debbie Brill figured out how to jump higher". Macleans. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  3. ^ a b She gets her back up: Only five women in history have jumped higher than Canada's Debbie Brill, who gives it a twist, Sports Illustrated (Vault), Anita Verschoth, Feb. 22, 1971.
  4. ^ a b Russell, Scott (July 7, 2017). "Profile: Debbie Brill raised the bar". CBC. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Debbie Brill: Taking a bad day in stride". CBC Digital Archives. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  6. ^ "WOMEN'S WORLD RANKINGS, 1956–2010". 14-wHJRank.pdf. Track and Field News. Archived from the original on 26 June 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
  7. ^ Order of Canada citation
  8. ^ "Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal". Archived from the original on 2012-12-04.
  9. ^ "IAAF standings 1972–1985". – The official athletics website. IAAF. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
Sporting positions Preceded by Louise Ritter USA National High Jump Champion 1979 Succeeded by Coleen Rienstra Preceded by Pam Spencer USA National High Jump Champion 1982 Succeeded by Louise Ritter