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‘Fosbury Flop’ high jumper Dick Fosbury dies at age 76


Dick Fosbury, the lanky jumper who revamped the technical discipline of the high jump and won an Olympic gold medal with his “Fosbury Flop,” has passed away. He turned 76.

Fosbury died Sunday after relapsing with lymphoma, according to his publicist, Ray Schulte.

Before Fosbury, many high jumpers cleared their height by running parallel to the bar and then using a straddle kick to jump over it before landing face down. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Fosbury took off at an angle, jumped backbent into a “J” shape to catapult his six-foot-tall frame over the crossbar, then crashed head first into the landing pad.

It was a move that defied convention, and as the world watched, Fosbury cleared 2.24 meters (7 feet, 4 1/4 inches) to win the 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 in which a high jumper won 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 has become about more than just the high jump. It is often used by business leaders and college professors as a study of innovation and a willingness to take risks and break the established order.

“It’s literally genius,” said 2012 Olympic high jump champion Erik Kynard Jr. “And of course it takes a huge amount of courage. And took a huge amount of courage at the time to even consider something so dangerous. Because of the equipment, it was something that was a bit exciting to try at the time.

Fosbury began tinkering with a new technique in the early 1960s as a teenager at Medford High School in Oregon. One of his discoveries was the need to move his starting point further back for higher jumps so that he could change the top of the parabolic shape of his jump to clear the bar. Most traditional jumpers of the time planted a foot and took off from the same spot no matter what height they attempted.

“I knew I had to change my posture, and that was the beginning of the revolution, and over the next two years, the evolution,” Fosbury said in a 2014 interview with The Corvallis Gazette-Times. “During my junior year I continued with this new technique, and each meeting I kept evolving or changing, but I improved. My results kept getting better.”

The technique was the subject of scorn and ridicule in some corners. The term Fosbury Flop is credited to the Medford Mail-Tribune, who wrote the headline “Fosbury Flops Over the Bar” after one of his high school reunions. The reporter wrote that Fosbury looked like a fish that flopped in a boat.

Fosbury loved ‘Fosbury Flop’.

“It’s poetic. It’s alliterative. It’s a conflict,” he once said.

In a chapter in his book about the Mexico City Games, journalist Richard Hoffer wrote that Fosbury once received a letter from an LA medical director suggesting that his technique would lead to “a rash of broken necks”.

“For the good of young Americans, you must stop this ridiculous attack on the bar,” the letter read.

As a child, Fosbury turned to sports as a way of coping with the grief after his younger brother, Greg, was killed by a drunk driver while the two boys were riding their bikes. Unable to stick with the football or basketball teams, Fosbury tried the track, but struggled there with the favorite jump of the time: the straddle.

Fosbury’s biographer, Bob Welch, wrote that Fosbury was fine with people who ridiculed his style, as it was still not as painful to him as the grief he felt over the loss of his brother.

Innovation has won. Decades later, Fosbury’s flop remains a hit, and his willingness to gamble remains a lesson almost anyone can learn from.

“He was as innovative as Henry Ford was for the Model T,” said Kynard. “He is the creator of what we still do to this day.”


AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.


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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.