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 height by running parallel to the bar, then using a straddle kick to leap over it before landing with their face pointing down. At the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Fosbury took off at an angle, leaped backwards, bent into a “J” shape to catapult his 6ft 4in frame over the bar, then crashed head first into the landing pit.
It was a move defying convention, and before the eyes of the world, Fosbury cleared 2.24 meters (7 feet, 4 1/4 inches) to win the gold medal and set an Olympic record. At the following Olympics, 28 of the 40 jumpers used Fosbury’s technique. The 1976 Montreal Games marked the last Olympics where a high jumper won using a technique other than the Fosbury Flop.
“World legend is probably used too often,” tweeted sprinter great Michael Johnson. “Dick Fosbury was a true LEGEND! He changed an entire event forever with a technique that seemed crazy at the time, but the result made it the norm.”
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 the willingness to take risks and break the mould.
“It’s literally genius,” said 2012 Olympic high jump champion Erik Kynard Jr. “And it takes enormous courage, obviously. “also dangerous. Due to the equipment at the time, it was something that was a bit difficult to attempt.
Fosbury began tinkering with a new technique in the early ’60s when he was a teenager at Medford High School in Oregon. Among his discoveries was the need to move his take-off point farther for higher jumps, so that he could change the apex of the parabolic shape of his jump to clear the bar. Most traditional jumpers of this era planted one foot and took off from the same spot, regardless of the height they were attempting.
“I knew I had to change my body position, and that’s what started the revolution, and over the next two years, evolution,” Fosbury said in a 2014 interview with The Corvallis Gazette- Times. “During my first year, I continued with this new technique, and with each meeting I continued to evolve or change, but I was improving, my results were improving.
The technique has been the subject of scorn and ridicule in some corners. The term Fosbury Flop is attributed to the Medford Mail-Tribune, which wrote the headline “Fosbury Flops Over the Bar” after one of its high school encounters. The reporter wrote that Fosbury looked like a fish floating in a boat.
Fosbury liked “Fosbury Flop”.
“It’s poetic. It is alliterative. It’s a conflict,” he once said.
In a chapter of his book on the Mexico Games, journalist Richard Hoffer wrote that Fosbury once received a letter from a medical director in Los Angeles suggesting that his technique would lead to “a rash of broken necks”.
“For the sake of young Americans, you should stop this ridiculous attack on the bar,” the letter read.
As a child, Fosbury got into the sport to cope with grief after his younger brother, Greg, was killed by a drunk driver while the two boys were riding their bikes. Unable to stick with the football or basketball teams, Fosbury tried the track but struggled with the favorite jump of the time – the straddle.
“He just looked at it 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 guts to stick with it in the face of criticism.”
Fosbury biographer Bob Welch wrote that Fosbury was fine with people who ridiculed his style because, for him, it was still not as painful as the grief he felt for the loss of his brother.
Innovation won out. Decades later, Fosbury’s flop remains a success, and his willingness to take a chance remains a lesson almost anyone can learn from.
“It was as innovative as Henry Ford was for the Model T,” Kynard said. “He is the creator of what we still do today.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.
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