Thirty-two years after his soaring, eponymous flop turned high jumping upside down (and backward), at the Mexico City Olympics, Dick Fosbury makes his living on terra firma, overseeing construction projects as the president of his civil engineering firm in Ketchum, Idaho. That might be regarded as a mundane undertaking for a free spirit once known as the Wizard of Foz, but the 53-year-old Fosbury has a different take. "I've never tried to be a nonconformist," he says. "I just find different solutions. I'm a problem solver. That's what engineers do."
In the high jump Fosbury's problem was with the straddle method, the dominant style of his day, in which the jumper threw one leg into the air and passed facedown over the bar. In 1963, as a sophomore at Medford (Ore.) High, he experimented with a variation on the outdated and upright scissors method. "With the scissors, you usually knocked the bar off with your butt," he says. "So I tried to lift my hips a little." Soon he was going over the bar faceup and had raised his personal best by six inches, to 5'10". The next year he turned his back to the bar and kept his legs together as he jumped. As a senior he began arching his spine as he went over. By the time he arrived at Oregon State in 1965, the Fosbury Flop had fully evolved.
In curling like a comma over the bar at 7'4�" to set an Olympic and U.S. record at the Estadio Olimpico three years later, Fosbury became one of the truly revolutionary figures of the radical '60s. Four years later, in Munich, 28 of the 40 competitors in the men's high jump were copying Fosbury, and of the 36 medalists in subsequent Olympics, 34 have been Floppers. "I had no inkling I would revolutionize the event," says Fosbury, who retired in 1973 after failing to qualify for the 72 Games. "It was all intuition."
The twice-divorced Fosbury, who has one son, Erich, 17, is still a slender 6'4" and spends a week each summer teaching his technique at a track camp for high schoolers in Lewiston, Maine. He enjoys sharing his skills with a new generation of jumpers. "All sorts of mysteries seem beyond us," Fosbury says. "I feel obligated to help people understand they don't have to be stuck."