Man who revolutionised high jump, Dick Fosbury passes away

Former US high jumper, Dick Fosbury, Olympic champion at the 1968 Mexico Olympics with a revolutionary backstroke technique, died on Sunday at the age of 76, his agent said on Monday.

Fosbury’s legacy will live on with his unique jumping style which changed high jump forever.

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce that my longtime friend and client, Dick Fosbury, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning after a brief relapse of lymphoma,” agent, Ray Schulte, wrote in a statement on Instagram.

“Dick will be sorely missed by friends and fans around the world. A true legend and friend to all.”

Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1947, Fosbury became one of the most influential athletes in track and field history by develop­ing the innovative high jump technique that transformed his sport in the 1960s.

Revolutionary technique

Prior to Fosbury’s emergence, almost all high jumpers attempted to clear the bar by using the belly-roll technique, in which they rose face-first, while attempting to turn their body mid-jump over the bar.

Instead of attacking head first, the lanky 1.93m tall Fosbury would arch towards the bar on his run before jumping backwards and flopping onto the mat, which is still the standard technique used by elite high jump­ers today.

This form is more effective from a biome­chanical point of view, as it allows less space between the jumper’s centre of gravity and the bar to be cleared, thus gaining height.

Fosbury began experimenting with new forms of high jumping while still at school, but his new approach first attracted world­wide attention in 1968.

Fosbury’s success

His victory at the US collegiate cham­pionships was followed by a victory at the Olympic trials in Los Angeles.

At the 1968 Games in Mexico City, Fos­bury won the gold medal after clearing 2.24 metres on his third jump, a new Olympic record, beating teammate, Ed Caruthers, (2.22), while Soviet athlete, Valentin Gavri­lov, (2.20) took bronze.

The world record had been held by the Soviet, Valeriy Brumel, with 2.28 since 1963, using the belly roll technique.

Although Dick Fosbury was never able to clear that height – in fact he tried un­successfully on that magical day in Mexico City with three failed attempts over 2.29 – and although there were many sceptics, who doubted the effectiveness of the new method, it quickly gained popularity and in the following years more and more jumpers, men and women, started to use it.

Already at the 1972 Games in Munich, 28 of the 40 competitors used the Fosbury technique, and at Moscow 1980, 13 of the 16 finalists did so as well.

Moreover, only two other jumpers man­aged to win an Olympic medal using the belly roller since Fosbury’s innovation, who was inducted into the US National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1981.

Fosbury retired after failing to qualify for the 1972 Munich Olympics despite being only 25 years old.

In fact, he never bettered the 2.24 achieved in the Olympic final in Mexico City, which fuelled the legend that he was actually a ‘mediocre’ jumper who had a great idea.

After leaving athletics, he became a civil engineer and settled in Ketchum, Idaho.

“The current popularity of my style is a wonderful reward for how much I had to put up with in the beginning with a style that nobody liked,” he said in 1984.

“I used to jump backwards in high school and everyone laughed at me, considering me a crackpot and some people a snob for breaking away from the known rules.

“Until I won in Mexico in 1968 and be­came a hero.”

With the ‘Fosbury Flop’, Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor soared over 2.45m in 1993 to set the world record and set one of the longest records in athletics history in Salamanca.

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