Dick Fosbury, the lanky jumper who revamped the technical discipline of the high jump and won an Olympic gold medal with his “Fosbury Flop,” has died. He was 76 years old.
Fosbury died Sunday after a recurrence of lymphoma, according to his publicist, Ray Schulte.
Before Fosbury, many high jumpers cleared their heights by running parallel to the bar, then using an open kick to jump before landing face down. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Fosbury took off at an angle, jumped backwards, bent into a “J” shape to catapult his 6-foot-4 frame over the bar, then crashed headfirst into the pit. landing.
It was a move that defied convention, and with the world watching, Fosbury cleared 7 feet 4¼ inches (2.24 meters) to win gold and set an Olympic record. For the next Olympic Games, 28 of the 40 vaulters used the Fosbury technique. The Montreal Games in 1976 marked the last Olympic Games in which a high jumper won using a technique other than the Fosbury Flop.
“Dick Fosbury was a true LEGEND!” the great sprint Michael Johnson tweeted. “He changed an entire event forever with a technique that seemed crazy at the time, but the result made it the standard.”
Over time, Fosbury’s move became more than just a high jump. It is often used by business leaders and university professors as a study in innovation and willingness to take risks and break the mold.
“It’s literally great,” said 2012 Olympic high jump champion Erik Kynard Jr. “And it takes a lot of courage, obviously. And it took great courage at that moment to even consider something so dangerous. Because of the team at the time, it was something I was kind of on the verge of trying.”
Fosbury began playing with a new technique in the early ’60s as a teenager at Medford High School in Oregon. Among his discoveries was the need to move his takeoff point further back for higher jumps, so that he could change the vertex of the parabolic shape of his jump to pass the bar. Most of the traditional jumpers of that day planted one foot and took off from the same spot, no matter how high they attempted.
“I knew I had to change the position of my body, and that’s what started the revolution in the first place and, for the next two years, the evolution,” Fosbury said in a 2014 interview with the Corvallis (Oregon) Gazette-Times. “During my third year, I continued with this new technique, and with each competition I continued to evolve or change, but I was getting better. My results were improving.”
The technique was teased and mocked in some corners. The term “Fosbury Flop” is credited to the Medford Mail-Tribune, which wrote the headline “Fosbury Flops Over the Bar” after one of their high school encounters. The reporter wrote that Fosbury looked like a fish floating in a boat.
Fosbury liked “Fosbury Flop”.
“It is poetic. it is alliterative. It’s a conflict,” she once said.
In a chapter of his book on the Mexico City Games, journalist Richard Hoffer wrote that Fosbury once received a letter from a Los Angeles medical director suggesting that his technique would cause “an eruption of broken necks.”
“For the sake of America’s youth, you must stop this ridiculous bar attack,” the letter read.
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As a child, Fosbury took up sports as a way to deal with grief after his younger brother, Greg, was killed by a drunk driver while the two boys were riding their bikes. Unable to keep up with the football or basketball teams, Fosbury tried track, but struggled with the preferred jumping technique of those days: the straddle.
“He just looked at the thing differently, and it really worked,” said Eric Hintz of the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. “And he had the guts and the fortitude to stand his ground in the face of criticism.”
Fosbury biographer Bob Welch wrote that Fosbury was fine dealing with people who ridiculed his style because, to him, it was still not as painful as the pain he felt at the loss of his brother.
Innovation won. Decades later, Fosbury’s failure is still a success, and his willingness to take chances remains a lesson almost anyone can learn from.
“It was as innovative as Henry Ford was with the Model T,” Kynard said. “He is the creator of what we still do to this day.”