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
Two years later,
Fosbury won the Olympic gold medal in Mexico City, and his style instigated a
revolution that changed the art of high jumping forever.
In the 20 years
since, 18 of 24 Olympic medalists have used the "Fosbury Flop"; not
since 1972 has a non-Flopper even placed in the men's competition. And as the
Olympic Games in Seoul draw near, the men's and women's world records are
approaching the eight-foot and seven-foot barriers, respectively, thanks to
Floppers Patrik Sj�berg of Sweden and Carlo Thr�nhardt of West Germany
(7'11�"), and Stefka Kostadinova of Bulgaria (6'10�").
All because a
gawky teenager, in the spirit of the rebellious '60s, literally turned his back
on the Establishment. Before 1968 virtually all high jumpers had used the
straddle method, in which the jumper kicks one foot up and rolls over the bar
face down. But since then the straddle has gone the way of basketball's
two-hand set shot.
wrought was a distinctive new method in which he leaped backward over the bar,
head first, as if he were napping on a picnic table with his legs dangling over
the end. His ascendancy had a certain whimsical magic to it. "Dick wasn't a
prospect, he was a suspect," says Dean Benson, Fosbury's high school coach
in Medford, then a town of 29,000 in southern Oregon. "That's what makes
this whole story so beautiful. He was just an everyday kid who devised a method
that caught on with the whole world."
How did it all
begin? Not the way a lot of people think. Among the myths about the Flop's
origins are the following: that Fosbury tripped and fell backward over the bar;
that he had a back deformity that prevented him from straddling; and that he
devised the style with graph paper and slide rule. In fact, the Fosbury Flop
jumping at age 11, using the scissors method, a stand-up style popularized by
children leaping small fences while being chased by large dogs. By the time he
entered Medford High in 1962, he had a best of only 5'4". "He was a
gangly, gawky, grew-too-fast kid," says Benson.
trying to learn the straddle, but it wasn't to be. "He could never do a
straddle worth sour apples," says Dick's father, Doug.
out of pity, Benson gave Fosbury the O.K. to use the scissors method in the
last meet before the district championships. But come meet day, something
unusual happened. Approaching from the left and jumping off his right foot,
Fosbury scissored his way to 5'4" without a miss. Then, after the bar went
to 5'6", he got an idea. "I began to feel what I needed to do was raise
my hips so I wouldn't be knocking the bar off with my butt. And when I raised
my hips, I began to drop my shoulders and lay back."
The result looked
chaotic, as if two shot-putters had grabbed him by the arms and legs and flung
him over the bar. But it worked. Fosbury cleared 5'10" and qualified for
the district meet. "It was a total shock to everybody including
myself," he says.