SI Vault
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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It seemed impossible. Though intensely competitive, Fosbury, a bony 6'4" and 183 pounds, was not particularly well-coordinated. The Soviet Union's Valery Brumel, who held the world record (7'5�"), had once won a bet by touching a basketball hoop with his foot five times in a row. Fosbury had once lost a bet by failing to clear a stuffed chair in OSU's Theta Chi fraternity, breaking his hand in the process.

Such was the paradox of Fosbury, a guy who couldn't beat a frat brother but who did beat the world's toughest high-jump field ever. In 1968 in Mexico City, facing 13 entrants who had cleared seven feet or better, Fosbury coolly cleared every height through 7'3�" without a miss. Unable to make that height, Valentin Gavrilov, the Soviet Union's best hope with Brumel injured, had to settle for the bronze medal. It was down to Fosbury and teammate Ed Caruthers for the gold.

At 7'4�", both Fosbury and Caruthers missed twice, setting the stage for the Flop seen round the world. With the 80,000 stadium spectators hushed and a huge television audience watching, Fosbury sprinted, sprang, arched his back and cleared the bar; he bounded from the pit with a boyish grin on his face and his arms in the air. It was an Olympic and American record. When Caruthers missed, the gold medal was Fosbury's. His style had passed the ultimate test.

Jumpers everywhere began bending over backward to make their points. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, 28 of the 40 competitors in the men's high jump were Floppers. In 1973, Dwight Stones cleared 7'6�" to become the first male Flopper to set a world record. And remember Radetich, Fosbury's teammate, who called the style a joke? He stopped laughing long enough to convert, setting a world indoor best and ultimately reaching 7'6".

"Dick expressed what a lot of people were trying to reach for back in the '60s," says college friend Tom Greerty. "Everyone was talking revolution, but there was still this herd mentality of copycats; one guy grew his hair long, so everybody else did. But The Foz, he had something truly different. The Foz was the only true revolutionary I ever met."

Today, Fosbury, 41, is a civil engineer in Ketchum, Idaho, where he lives with his wife, Karen, and their six-year-old son, Erich. Though he is hardly unknown in the area, neither does he bring local restaurants to a standstill when he enters. After Fosbury returned from The Superstars competition in Florida last February, a neighbor looked puzzled. "Why," he asked, "would they invite a surveyor?"

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