American high jump revolutionary
Crowned Olympic high jump champion at Mexico 1968, Dick Fosbury revolutionised his discipline, giving birth to the style that still carries his name, ‘the Fosbury Flop’.
Too tall for the high jump Born on 6 March 1947 in Portland, Oregon (USA), from an early age Richard Douglas Fosbury showed a natural flare for science and mathematics. He was also a gifted athlete, with a particular talent for the high jump. However, when he reached his teens, he found that, at 1.93m, he was already too tall to perform it effectively using either the traditional scissors jump or the more commonly used straddle technique. His personal best had plateaued at 1.80m, and so the young Fosbury realised that if he was to make further progress in the discipline, he would have to come up with a different approach.
A leap of faith From 1963 onwards, Dick Fosbury started using a new technique of his own invention. Starting into a curved run-up, he turned away from the bar, transferring his weight and thrusting his body backwards over the bar. The young athlete used his new technique in a college tournament to record a jump of 2m, much to the bemusement of the judges, who, after much deliberation, were forced to conclude that Fosbury’s unorthodox but effective style was perfectly legitimate, since the only requirement is that a high jumper launches off one foot.
Making waves in Mexico Having been chosen to represent the USA at the 1968 Olympic Games, thanks to a 2.21m jump during the American trials, Fosbury made it through to the final at Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium on 20 October 1968. His novel jumping style had the crowd gasping, as he cleared each new height at the first attempt, right up to 2.22m, by which point all of the other finalists had fallen by the wayside. It then took him three goes to succeed at 2.24m and set a new Olympic record. But the gold medal was not yet his. He faced an anxious wait as, once again, the judges debated whether his technique was in breach of any of the technical regulations. Eventually they decided it was not, and Fosbury was duly crowned Olympic champion.
Raising the bar Fosbury’s exploits in Mexico instantly earned him national hero status back home. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was quick to recognise the effectiveness of his technique, which became more and more widely used, enabling athletes to clear heights in excess of 2.40m. Today, the Fosbury Flop is immortalised in the dictionary, and has been firmly established as the only technique used in the high jump.