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Leap of faith: Dick Fosbury on how a new jump style changed his sport forever

11 Apr 2014
Olympic News

In our latest exclusive video interview, Dick Fosbury, who was crowned Olympic men’s high jump champion at Mexico City 1968, tells the story of that victory and of how he came to reshape his discipline forever with the invention of the ‘Fosbury Flop’.

Born on 6 March 1947 in Portland, Oregon (USA), Richard Douglas Fosbury showed an aptitude for science and mathematics at a very early age. He was also a prodigiously gifted athlete, with a particular talent for the high jump. However, when he reached his teenage years, his tall height (1.93m) hampered his ability to maximise his potential using the prevailing straddle method, or the one existing alternative, the upright scissors method. He was therefore unable to get beyond a personal best of 1.80m. He knew that if he were to stand any chance of making further progress, he would have to try something different.

In 1963, the 16-year-old Fosbury decided to put a new “back-first” technique into practice, which involved sprinting diagonally towards the bar, then curve and leap backwards over the bar. It was not perfect at first, but the determined Fosbury persevered. He was adamant that he could make his idea work. “I knew that I had something,” he recalls.

After making the US team for the Olympic Games in Mexico City, thanks to a jump of 2.21m during the qualifiers, Fosbury leapt his way into the final at the Olympic Stadium on 20 October 1968. His previously unseen back technique captured the imagination of fans around the world, as he went clear at the first time of asking each time the bar was raised, right up to 2.22m. He then went clear at 2.24m on his third attempt to set a new Olympic record and claim the gold. “On the podium I felt proud to be an American, but most of all I thought about the people in my home town who had supported me even when I was struggling. I will never forget that,” says Fosbury, who turned 67 in 2014.

In the autumn of 1968, the world witnessed a truly landmark moment in the history of athletics, as in the years to come Fosbury’s innovative style was embraced as the accepted standard, enabling high jumpers to break the 2.40m barrier. Fosbury’s name was immortalised in the dictionary, as synonymous with the technique that remains the definitive one practiced by high jumpers around the world to this day, the Fosbury Flop.

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