Dick Fosbury dies; Olympic gold medalist reworked high jump event
Dick Fosbury signs the wall in the adidas Olympic Media Lounge in London in 2012. Fosbury, the lanky jumper who reinvented the technical discipline of the high jump and won an Olympic gold medal with his ‘Fosbury Flop’ has died at the age of 76.
By Eddie Pells | Associated Press
Dick Fosbury, the lanky jumper who revolutionized the technical discipline of the high jump and won an Olympic gold medal with his “Fosbury Flop,” has died. He was 76.
According to his publicist Ray Schulte, Fosbury died on Sunday after a recurrence of lymphoma.
Prior to Fosbury, many high jumpers overcame their height by running parallel to the bar and then straddling the bar 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, and then fell headfirst into the landing pit .
It was a move that defied convention, and before the eyes of the world, Fosbury overcame 2.24 meters (7 feet, 4¼ inches) to win gold and set an Olympic record. At the next Olympics, 28 of the 40 jumpers used Fosbury’s technique. The 1976 Montreal Games were the last Olympics to be won by a high jumper using a technique other than the Fosbury flop.
“The world legend is probably overused,” tweeted Sprint great Michael Johnson. “Dick Fosbury was a true LEGEND! He changed an entire event forever with a technique that looked crazy at the time, but the result made it the standard.”
Over time, Fosbury’s move was about more than jumping high. It is often used by business leaders and university professors as a study of innovation and willingness to take risks and push the limits.
“It’s literally awesome,” said Erik Kynard Jr., 2012 Olympic gold medalist in high jump. “And of course it takes tremendous courage. And at the time it took enormous courage to even consider something so dangerous. Because of the equipment at the time, it was a bit nervous to try it.”
Fosbury began tinkering with a new technique as a teenager at Medford High School in Oregon in the early ’60s. Among his discoveries was the need to move his starting point farther back for higher jumps, so he could change the apex of his jump’s parabolic shape to clear the bar. Most traditional jumpers of the time would put one foot down and take off from the same spot regardless of the height they were attempting.
“I knew I had to change my posture, and that started the revolution first, and the evolution over the next two years,” Fosbury said in a 2014 interview with the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “Throughout my junior year I continued with this new technique and at each meeting I evolved or changed, but I improved. My results kept getting better.”
The technology caused scorn and ridicule in some corners. The term Fosbury Flop is credited to the Medford Mail-Tribune, which headlined “Fosbury Flops Over the Bar” after one of his high school reunions. The reporter wrote that Fosbury looked like a fish swimming 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 on the Mexico City Games, journalist Richard Hoffer wrote that Fosbury once received a letter from an LA medical director in which he suggested his technique would result in “a rash of broken necks.”
“For the good of young Americans, you should stop this ridiculous attack on the bar,” the letter said.
As a child, Fosbury threw himself into the sport to deal with grief after his younger brother Greg was killed by a drunk driver while the two boys were riding bikes. Unable to keep up with the football or basketball teams, Fosbury tried the track, but struggled with the favorite jump of the day – the straddle.
Fosbury’s biographer Bob Welch wrote that Fosbury was fine with people mocking his style because it still didn’t hurt him as much as the grief he felt at the loss of his brother.
Innovation has won. Decades later, Fosbury’s flop remains a hit, and his willingness to take risks remains a lesson almost anyone can learn from.
“He was as innovative as Henry Ford was with the Model T,” Kynard said. “He is the creator of what we do to this day.”
Associated Press sportswriter Pat Graham contributed to this report.