American athlete Dick Fosbury devised the high jump technique known as the “Fosbury Flop.” His new technique revolutionized one of the oldest events in track and field competition. While Fosbury never broke the world record using his new technique, other high jumpers were inspired by his gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, where he introduced his new jumping technique.
Fosbury was born in 1946 in Oregon and went to Oregon State University. He won the gold medal in the Olympic Games at the very young age of 21. It was assumed that his odd-looking new method for clearing the bar was based on a careful study of the physics and biomechanics of high jump technique. However, Fosbury claimed it was the product of pure intuition.
Prior to Fosbury’s invention, most high jumpers used a “straddle” technique. In this older style of jumping, the front leg led the jumper up and over the bar in a face down position. Fosbury’s technique involves approaching the bar in a curve with a last second acceleration. Then, at the point of take-off, the body rotates, positioning the back to the bar and leaping backwards. The head faces the sky as the body arches over the bar with the mid-body and legs trailing behind.
Fosbury had begun experimenting with the technique when he was only sixteen years old. In a meet in 1968 in which Fosbury used his new technique, a local newspaper’s headline read, “Fosbury flops over the bar.” Thus, the name of the newly invented technique was born.
Since Fosbury’s competitive days, his technique has been widely copied. Once experienced jumpers mastered the technique, records started to fall in the sport, due mostly to the Fosbury Flop, but also to better equipment and running surfaces. Dick Fosbury will always be known for his revolutionizing of the sport of high jump.