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Robert S. Welch
September 12, 1988
In 1966 a freshman high jumper from California arrived at Oregon State in Corvallis, took one look at Dick Fosbury's backward style and laughed. As a high schooler, John Radetich had already cleared 6'9�", a mark equal to the OSU record. He didn't figure Fosbury, then a sophomore, was going to be much competition. "To be honest," says Radetich, "I thought his style was a joke."
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September 12, 1988

The Fosbury Flop Is Still A Big Hit

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Fosbury considers that May afternoon in 1963 to be the birth of the Flop. From then on, the technique continued to evolve in competition, not practice. "I didn't change my style," he says. "It changed inside me."

In his junior year Fosbury made an important alteration in his technique. Instead of simply lying back from the scissors position, he went backward from the point of takeoff, going over the bar at a 45-degree angle; to do so, he twisted his shoulders just before leaping.

The iconoclastic style befitted Fosbury. "He always had his own idea about how things should be done," says Jim Cox, a high school teammate. "When everyone else would be joining a group, he would be off doing something on his own."

When he was a senior in 1965, Fosbury's technique took on its final shape: He began leading more with his head and clearing the bar with a more pronounced backward arc. He finished second in the state meet in Eugene with a 6'5", and a Wirephoto let the world see the style for the first time. A sportswriter for the Medford Mail Tribune dubbed it the Fosbury Flop.

Berny Wagner, Oregon State's new track coach in 1965, figured Fosbury had some potential, particularly after the Flopper jumped a personal-best 6'7" to win a national juniors meet. Fosbury had already decided to go to OSU because of its engineering school, so Wagner proposed a deal: Fosbury would get tuition and books, and Wagner would transform Dick into a real high jumper—a straddler.

Fosbury agreed. "I don't think he wanted to be laughed at anymore," says Wagner, now national coach/coordinator of The Athletic Congress in Indianapolis. After the Great Transformation began in Corvallis, results came quickly. "I promptly went from 6'7" to 5'6"," says Fosbury. "I was totally embarrassed."

Wagner, wanting to wean Fosbury from the Flop without embarrassing him on Saturdays, allowed him to go backward during competition. Flopping, Fosbury was a hit, tying the OSU freshman record of 6'6�". Straddling, he was a flop. By the next fall, Wagner was considering making him a triple jumper.

But Fosbury stunned everyone with a school-record 6'10" in the first meet of his sophomore year. "I decided right then and there I didn't need another triple jumper," says Wagner.

When Fosbury won the Pac-8 meet (6'9") and placed fifth in the NCAAs (6'10"), his peers started taking him seriously. In February 1968 he made the cover of Track & Field News. In the photo, glum-faced straddlers, arms folded, watched as Fosbury cleared seven feet to win the Athens Invitational in Oakland. Remembers Radetich, "It was like in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when Butch says, "Who are those guys?' Only this time it was, 'Who is this guy?' It was the turning pent of the Flop. From then on it was accepted."

Fosbury became the most consistent seven-foot jumper in the nation, winning the NCAA outdoor title and making the Olympic team with a personal-best 7'3". On campus, he became known as "The Wizard of Foz." Mothers in Corvallis complained of rumpled couches and broken bed slats, the results of young Fosbury imitators. In a 10-month period, Fosbury had gone from being ranked in a 13-way tie for 48th in the world to being a medal contender at the Mexico City Games.

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