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06 Mar 2007
IOC News

Richard Fosbury: high jump revolution!

It took only the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 for Dick Fosbury to reveal to the world a revolutionary technique, take the gold medal and improve the Olympic high jump record. The back-first approach which characterises his technique is so superior that it is still being used today. The high-jumper celebrates his 60th birthday today – giving us a chance to look back at the immense leap forward that he made in this discipline.
The first Olympic Games organised in Latin America, the Games of the XIX Olympiad in Mexico City, were also the first to oblige the winners to submit to anti-doping tests and the first to offer synthetic tracks.
But above all, they were the first Games to take place at an altitude of 2,300 metres: an advantage for disciplines requiring short but intense efforts like high-jumping. The proof of this was offered by Dick Fosbury, who cleared each new height at his first attempt up to 2.22 metres. At 21, the young American high-jumper even set the Olympic record with his last attempt at 2.24 metres. To thunderous applause, he took his first gold medal, beating his compatriot Edward Caruthers by two centimetres.
Owing to his unusual angle of attack, his jump did not please the judges: refused at first, it was finally accepted. The Fosbury flop was born!
Citius! Fortius!
Fosbury’s new Olympic record took its place in an edition of the Games which saw many new world and Olympic records: indeed, in the long jump, America’s Bob Beamon jumped an incredible 8.90m, a record which stood for 22 years! His compatriot James Hines was the first man to run 100 metres in under 10 seconds (9.9)! Tommie Smith, competing for the US, broke the men’s 200 metres world record (19.8 seconds); Lee Evans, another American, that of the 400 metres (43.8 seconds); and Britain’s David Hemery that of the 400 metres hurdles with 48.1 seconds!
The quest for technical perfection
An athletics discipline since the 1896 Games, there are several high-jump techniques: scissors, western roll and straddle. All attack the bar from the side or face on and use the inner foot to take off.
Conversely, in the Fosbury flop, the athlete runs up in a curve, jumps by taking off from his outer foot and twists his body to clear the bar with his back. He finishes the movement by lifting his legs over the bar and landing on a mattress.
The back-first jump offers many improvements compared to traditional techniques: the curved run-up allows the high-jumper to reach the bar with more speed and to do a more powerful jump. The body arches over the bar and the centre of gravity is underneath, which is an indisputable mechanical advantage.
Appearance of a shooting star
In just one edition of the Olympic Games Dick Fosbury really excelled himself: he revolutionised the high jump discipline, and made his mark on both the history of the oldest sport, athletics, and the Olympic Games. Lastly, he gave his name to a new high-jumping technique, the most popular in the world today.
Bravo Mr Fosbury and Happy Birthday!
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