By Eddie Pells | Associated Press
Dick Fosbury, the slender jumper who renewed 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 on Sunday after a recurrence of lymphoma, according to his publicist, Ray Schulte.
Before Fosbury, many jumpers surpassed their heights by running parallel to the bar and then using an open kick to leap off before landing face down. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Fosbury took off at an angle, bounced back, curved in a “J” shape to catapult his six-foot frame over the bar, then landed headfirst into the landing pit. .
It was a move that defied convention, and with the world watching, Fosbury cleared 2.24 meters (7 feet, 4¼ inches) to win gold and set an Olympic record. At the next Olympics, 28 out of 40 jumpers were using the Fosbury technique. The Montreal Games in 1976 marked the last Olympics in which a high jumper won using a technique other than the Fosbury Flop.
“World legend is probably used too often,” tweeted sprint 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 has become standard.”
Over time, Fosbury’s move became more than just a high heel. 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 genius,” said 2012 Olympic high jump champion Erik Kynard Jr. “And it takes a lot of courage, obviously. And it took enormous courage at the time to even consider something so dangerous. Due to the equipment then, it was something that was a bit on the edge to try.”
Fosbury started tinkering with a new technique in the early 1960s as a teenager at Medford High School in Oregon. Among his discoveries was the need to move his take-off point farther back for higher jumps, so that he could change the apex from the parabola shape of his jump to clear the bar. Most traditional jumpers of that era would plant one foot and fire 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 first started the revolution and, over the next two years, the evolution,” Fosbury said in a 2014 interview with The Corvallis Gazette-Times. “During the first year, I continued with this new technique and at each meeting I evolved or changed, but I got better. My results were improving.”
The technique was the subject of derision and ridicule in some quarters. The term Fosbury Flop is credited to the Medford Mail-Tribune, who wrote the headline “Fosbury Flops Over the Bar” after one of their high school reunions. The reporter wrote that Fosbury looked like a fish struggling in a boat.
Fosbury liked “Fosbury Flop”.
“It’s poetic. It’s alliterative. It’s a conflict,” he once said.
In a chapter of his book about 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 lead to “a rash of broken necks.”
“For the sake of young Americans, you should stop this ridiculous bar attack,” the letter read.
As a child, Fosbury took up sports as a way to cope with grief after his younger brother Greg was killed by a drunk driver while the two boys were riding their bicycles. Unable to stick with the football or basketball teams, Fosbury tried track and field but struggled there with the favored jump at the time – the straddle.
Fosbury’s biographer Bob Welch wrote that Fosbury was fine with dealing with people who ridiculed his style because, for him, it was still not nearly as painful as the grief he felt over the loss of his brother.
Innovation won. Decades later, Fosbury’s flop remains a hit, and his willingness to take risks remains a lesson almost anyone can learn.
“He was as innovative as Henry Ford was for the Model T,” Kynard said. “He is the creator of what we still do today.”
Associated Press sports writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.
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