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.
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.
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.
"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
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.
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."
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.