At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Canada's Derek Drouin took the gold in the high jump, with a leap of 2.38 m (7ft 10in). It was a stunning jump, but it fell 7cm short of the world record of 2.45m (8ft), set by Cuba's Javier Sotomayor way back in 1993.

As ever with our athletic feats, there are plenty of wild animals that leap far higher, reaching dizzying heights in a single bound.

There are two ways you can measure the highest jumps. The first is the absolute height an animal reaches. However, that tends to favour the largest animals, so the second option is to consider how high an animal jumps relative to its own size.

Depending which you choose, the title of highest jumper could go to several different species.

Let's start with the absolute highest jumps. Unsurprisingly, many of the bounciest species have the word "spring" in their names.

One such species is the springbok, a medium-sized antelope found in southern Africa. Hunted by big cats, eagles and wild dogs, these animals often leap for safety.

Hares jump further than rabbits, because they are bigger

They also engage in bouts of "pronking". This involves a series of stiff-legged jumps that can reach 6.5ft (2m) in height. Scientists have suggested that this helps males display their strength and watch for predators.

The impala is arguably the highest jumper among antelope, out-leaping any human athlete. It can soar up to 9ft 10in (3m) over obstacles, including other impalas and savannah vegetation. This is a life-saving adaptation when you are on something else's lunch menu.

Another antelope species named for its jumping ability is the klipspringer. It is a relatively dainty species found in mountainous areas of southern and eastern Africa. They have strong back legs to help them climb across rocks, and a distinctive habit of walking on tiptoes.

There is an oft-quoted statistic about klipspringers: that they can jump an extraordinary 25ft (7.6m). However, it is probably a tall tale.

According to Craig Roberts of the University of Stirling in the UK, who has studied the animals, klipspringers' specialised hooves allow them to traverse near-vertical slopes. Thanks to a rotated digit, the hooves are effectively cylindrical, enhancing the antelope's grip.

Sticking with mammals, there is another familiar group renowned for hopping and bounding: rabbits and hares. Hares jump further than rabbits, because they are bigger, says ecologist John Flux.

The red kangaroo is one of the biggest animals to leap

He points to data collected in the early 1900s by the epically-named naturalist Gerald Edwin Hamilton Barrett-Hamilton. He recorded brown hares reaching heights of 15ft (4.5m), while white-tailed jackrabbits travelled an astonishing 21ft (6.4m)

Flux says hares are "finely adapted for long-distance running at high speed". They have light skulls, large hearts and dark red flesh in their muscles to carry plenty of oxygen. "This makes hares very good athletes, and hence great jumpers."

On top of their athletic ability, hares' long hind legs have extended tendons. These store the elastic energy needed to power remarkable jumps.

The same is true of kangaroo rats, whose elongated back legs reportedly allow them to leap up to 9ft (2.75m) high. That is not bad for a rodent that weighs less than 4.5oz (128g).

Spinner dolphins achieve similar maximum heights to kangaroos, but under very different conditions

Living in the deserts of North America, kangaroo rats are not related to Australia's famous hopping marsupials. The rats have independently evolved a similar method of propulsion, using their long tails as a counter-balance.

Speaking of kangaroos, the red kangaroo is one of the biggest animals to leap. Powered by stretchy tendons rather than muscles that demand oxygen, the leap is an efficient way to travel long distances through the Australian bush in search of food and water.

Red kangaroos regularly leap 5ft (1.5m), and their highest jumps are said to be around 10ft (3m). That is about on a par with impalas, but not as high as the bounciest hares and jackrabbits.

There are also jumping animals in the sea.

Spinner dolphins achieve similar maximum heights to kangaroos, but under very different conditions. They are named for their corkscrewing leaps above water, and have been recorded 10ft (3m) above the ocean's surface at the peak of their jumps.

The serval of southern Africa can reach a height of 5ft (1.5m) to catch birds in flight

Because the mechanics of jumping from water are so different, it is hard to compare this to the land-based leapers.

To understand how the dolphins spin, scientists studied video footage of them for a study published in 2006. They found that the dolphins twist beneath the water, generating torque. Once they emerge from the water there is less drag force on their body, resulting in an accelerated spin that powers them through the air.

It is not clear why the dolphins jump so much. Researchers have suggested that it plays a role in communication, and that it dislodges parasitic remoras that treat the dolphins as a travelling buffet.

While some species use jumping to avoid predators, others employ it to catch their prey.

Anyone with a pet cat knows that they can jump for toy mice, luckless garden birds and even laser pointers. Their wild ancestors are just as good at it.

A slightly smaller cat seems to be the highest leaper of them all

For instance, the serval of southern Africa can reach a height of 5ft (1.5m) to catch birds in flight.

We know that bigger animals can jump higher, so it is reasonable to guess that the biggest cats will be the best jumpers. The biggest cats alive today are Siberian tigers, which are thought to be able to clear 13ft (4m) in one bound.

One certainly did in 2007 when it attacked visitors to San Francisco Zoo, one fatally. However, it is not clear whether the tiger scaled the enclosure's 12.5ft (3.8m) wall in one jump, or whether it had a run up and climbed part of the structure.

However, a slightly smaller cat seems to be the highest leaper of them all.

Among insects, the species that do serious jumping are often known as "hoppers"

Cougars, also known as pumas, mountain lions and catamounts, are not technically "big cats" because they do not roar like lions, tigers, leopards or jaguars. Yet in sheer size they are clearly big cats: mature male cougars will stand up to 3ft (90cm) tall at the shoulder and weigh as much as 136lb (62kg).

They also have powerful back legs and can reach 18ft (5.5m) in a single upward leap, according to a 1960 report by researcher Claude Barnes­. If true, that is further than any other cat. Nevertheless, those pesky white-tailed jackrabbits with their 21-feet jumps still seem to be the champions.

However, these are all absolute jump heights. What about jumps in proportion to body size? To explore this, we need to look at some much smaller creatures.

Among insects, the species that do serious jumping are often known as "hoppers".

Fleas can launch themselves up to 200 times their body length

For instance, grasshoppers use muscles in their knee joints to effectively catapult themselves upwards. The infamous desert locust can leap as high as 10in (25cm).

Similarly, froghoppers are tiny 6mm-long bugs, which you might know best from the "cuckoo spit" that their nymphs secrete on garden plants. The adults are the jumpers: they can spring 27.5in (70cm) into the air, thanks to their specialised back legs.

However, achieving great heights does not necessarily require legwork, as springtails prove. Each of these minute hexapods has a two-pronged lever tucked beneath its abdomen with which it can flip itself through the leaf litter, reaching heights of 6in (15cm).

At this point you may be wondering if we are ever going to talk about the record-breaking jumps performed by fleas. Well, yes we are.

Fleas can launch themselves up to 200 times their body length.

The real champions seem to be dog fleas, which can reach heights of 10in (25cm)

To do so, they use their hind legs as multi-jointed levers. They grip the ground for traction before crouching down, using their muscles to store energy in a special protein. When this energy is released, it acts like a coiled spring to fling them upwards.

Cat fleas were once said to achieve 13in (34cm). However, this has been revised down to 8in (20cm) after direct observations.

The real champions seem to be dog fleas, which can reach heights of 10in (25cm). That is a huge leap for a wingless insect you can barely see with the naked eye.

However, there is another group of tiny animals that arguably has the jump on fleas.

Planktonic copepods are found throughout the world's oceans. Rather like fleas, they are typically less than 0.1in (3mm) long.

Within a few milliseconds, copepods accelerate to a velocity of nearly 1000 body lengths per second

Copepods jump through the water, both to escape predators and to hunt their own prey. They do so by throwing their four to five pairs of swimming legs backwards in sequence.

In 2011, researchers discovered that copepods' leg muscles produce 10 times more force than any other animal studied. They have to, because at their tiny scale water is incredibly viscous, and they must overcome that to perform their jumps. Within a few milliseconds, copepods accelerate to a velocity of nearly 1000 body lengths per second.

You will not see that repeated in an athletics stadium any time soon.

Join over five million BBC Earth fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called "If You Only Read 6 Things This Week". A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital, Travel and Autos, delivered to your inbox every Friday.