Dick Fosbury
Dick Fosbury 1968.jpg
Fosbury in 1968
Personal information
Full nameRichard Douglas Fosbury
Born (1947-03-06) March 6, 1947 (age 75)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Height6 ft 4 in (193 cm)
Weight183 lb (83 kg)
CountryUnited States
Event(s)High jump
College teamOregon State University
ClubOregon State Beavers, Corvallis
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)2.24 m (7 ft 4¼ in) (1968)[1]
Medal record

Richard Douglas Fosbury (born March 6, 1947) is an American retired high jumper, who is considered one of the most influential athletes in the history of track and field. Besides winning a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics, he revolutionized the high jump event with a "back-first" technique, now known as the Fosbury Flop, adopted by almost all high jumpers today. His method was to sprint diagonally towards the bar, then curve and leap backwards over the bar, which gave him a much lower center of mass in flight than traditional techniques. He continues to be involved in athletics and serves on the executive board of the World Olympians Association.[2]

In 2014, Fosbury unsuccessfully challenged Steve Miller for a seat in the Idaho House of Representatives. Fosbury ran for Blaine County Commissioner against incumbent Larry Schoen in 2018, won the seat, and took office in January 2019.

Athletic career

High school and the origins of the Fosbury Flop

A high jumper performing the straddle technique, the first high-jumping technique that Fosbury was taught
A high jumper performing the straddle technique, the first high-jumping technique that Fosbury was taught
Yelena Slesarenko using the Fosbury Flop technique at the 2004 Summer Olympics

Born in Portland, Oregon, Fosbury started experimenting with a new high-jumping technique at age 16, while attending Medford High School.[3] Fosbury had difficulty competing using the dominant high-jumping techniques of the period. In his sophomore year, he failed to complete jumps of five feet (1.52 m), the qualifying height for many high-school track meets.[4] This dominant technique, the straddle method, was a complex motion where an athlete went over the high-jump bar facing down, and lifted his legs individually over the bar. Fosbury found it difficult to coordinate all the motions involved in the straddle method, so he began to experiment with other ways of doing the high jump.

Fosbury later recalled, "I knew I had to change my body position and that's what started first the revolution, and over the next two years, the evolution."[5] At first, he tried to use a technique known as the upright scissors method. In this method, a jumper runs upright towards the bar, facing forward, and during his jump lifts his straight legs one at a time over the bar.[4] High-jump rules stipulate only that competitors must jump off one foot at takeoff; there is no rule governing how a competitor crosses the bar, so long as he or she goes over it.[6]

As he began to experiment with this technique, he gradually adapted it to make himself more comfortable and to get more height out of it. Nonetheless, it was nowhere near as coordinated as a well-performed straddle method jump, and one historian has referred to Fosbury's early attempts as an "airborne seizure"; however, during the latter part of his sophomore year and the beginning of his junior year, it began to produce results, and he gradually was able to clear higher jumps.[4]

Gradually, Fosbury shifted his positioning during the jump, such that by his senior year he had begun to go over the bar backwards, head-first, curving his body over the bar and kicking his legs up in the air at the end of the jump. This required him to land on his back, but, prior to his junior year, his high school had replaced its wood chip landing pit with a softer material, so he was able to land safely.[4]

Luckily for Fosbury, replacement of landing surfaces with foam rubber was becoming common across the United States in the early 1960s. Sawdust, sand, or woodchip surfaces had been usable previously because jumpers using the scissors technique were able to clear the bar while upright and then land on their feet, while those using the Western Roll or Straddle made a three-point landing on their hands and lead leg. In the late 1950s, American colleges began to use bundles of soft foam rubber, usually held together by a mesh net. These bundles were not only much softer but were also elevated about three feet (0.91 m) off the ground. By the early 1960s, American high schools were following the lead of the colleges in acquiring foam rubber landing pits. With the new, softer, elevated landing surface, Fosbury was able to land safely.

Fosbury did, however, compress a couple of vertebrae in the mid-1960s because not all high schools could afford the new foam material. Fosbury recovered from this injury.[7]

Fosbury's coaches at first encouraged him to continue practicing the straddle method, but they abandoned that idea when his marks continued to improve. In his junior year, he broke his high-school record with a 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) jump, and the next year took second place in the state with a 6 ft 5.5 in (1.969 m) jump.

The technique gained the name the "Fosbury Flop" when in 1964 the Medford Mail-Tribune ran a photo captioned "Fosbury Flops Over Bar,"[5] while in an accompanying article a reporter wrote that he looked like "a fish flopping in a boat."[4] Others were even less kind, with one newspaper captioning Fosbury's photograph, "World's Laziest High Jumper".[8]


After graduating from Medford High School in 1965, he enrolled at Oregon State University in Corvallis.[9] The school's coach, Berny Wagner, believed that Fosbury would eventually achieve greater results using the western roll and convinced him to continue practicing the old technique through his freshman year, although he was allowed to use the "flop" in freshman meets.[5] The debate over technique ended during Fosbury's sophomore year, however, when he cleared 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m) in his first meet of the season, shattering the school record.[5]

Fosbury later recalled:

After the meet, Berny came up to me and said, "That's enough." That was the end of Plan A, on to Plan B. He would study what I was doing, film it, and even start to try to experiment and teach it to the younger jumpers.[5]

The national sports media began to take notice of the jumper from Oregon with the unusual style.[5] He was on the cover of Track and Field News's February 1968 issue.[10] Fosbury won the 1968 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title using his new technique—the first of two consecutive titles—as well as the United States Olympic Trials.[5]

Fosbury continued to refine his technique, developing a curved, J-shaped approach run. This allowed him to increase his speed, while the final "curved" steps served to rotate his hips. As his speed increased, so did his elevation. Fosbury made little to no use of his arms at takeoff, failing to "pump" them upwards, keeping them down, close to his body: the next generation of floppers would add an arm pump. Fosbury's key discovery was the need to adjust his point of takeoff as the bar was raised. His flight through the air described a parabola: as the bar went up in height, he needed more "flight time" so that the top of his arc was achieved as his hips passed over the bar. To increase "flight time," Fosbury moved his takeoff farther and farther away from the bar (and the pit). Jumpers have a natural tendency to be drawn in closer to the bar and it requires mental discipline to move out, rather than in. By way of comparison, classic straddle jumpers plant their take-off foot in the same place every time, less than one foot away from a line parallel with the bar. Photographs of Fosbury attempting heights above 7 feet (2.1 m) show him taking off nearly 4 feet (1.2 m) out from the bar.

In the 1968 outdoor season, Fosbury won the Pac-8 Conference title and went on to win the NCAA championship at Berkeley, California in mid-June with a jump of 7 feet 2.5 inches (2.197 m). He duplicated those wins the following year.

Fosbury at the 1968 Summer Olympics

Fresh off his NCAA win in mid-June, Fosbury went on to win the U.S. Olympic Trials two weeks later in Los Angeles with a jump of 2.16 m (7 ft 1 in). Despite the win, his place on the Olympic team was not assured because the US Olympic Committee was worried that the results at sea-level Los Angeles might not be replicated at the high altitude in Mexico City. Another competition was held in September at the Olympic camp at Echo Summit near South Lake Tahoe, California. At that competition, Fosbury was one of four men to clear 2.18 m (7 ft 1+78 in), but he was in fourth place because of misses. The bar was raised to 2.20 m (7 ft 2+58 in), a height none of the four had ever cleared. However, Olympic veteran Ed Caruthers, high schooler Reynaldo Brown, and Fosbury all cleared on their first attempts. When the fourth man, John Hartfield, another high schooler who had been leading the competition, missed all three of his attempts, the Olympic team of three jumpers was set.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Fosbury took the gold medal and set a new Olympic record at 2.24 m (7 ft 4+14 in),[9] displaying the potential of the new technique. Despite the initial skeptical reactions from the high-jumping community, the "Fosbury Flop" quickly gained acceptance. In the Finals competition, only three jumpers cleared 2.20 m (7 ft 2+58 in), and Fosbury was in the lead by virtue of having cleared every height on his first attempt. At the next height, 2.22 m (7 ft 3+38 in), Fosbury again cleared the bar on his first jump. His teammate, Ed Caruthers, cleared on his second effort, while Valentin Gavrilov of the Soviet Union missed on all three attempts and earned the bronze medal (third place).[11] The bar was raised to 2.24 m (7 ft 4+14 in), which would be new Olympic and United States records. Fosbury missed on his first two attempts, but cleared on his third, while Caruthers missed on all three of his attempts.[12] Having won the gold medal and broken the American record, Fosbury asked the bar to be raised to 2.29 m (7 ft 6+18 in), hoping to break Valeriy Brumel's five-year-old world record of 2.28 m (7 ft 5+34 in). However, none of his attempts at 2.29 m came close to clearing.[1][13]

Athletic legacy and the dominance of the flop

At the next Olympics in 1972 at Munich, 28 of the 40 competitors used Fosbury's technique, although gold medalist Jüri Tarmak used the straddle technique. By 1980, 13 of the 16 Olympic finalists used it.[14] Of the 36 Olympic medalists in the event from 1972 through Athletics at the 2000 Summer Olympics – Men's high jump|2000]], 34 used "the Flop". Today it is the most popular technique in modern high jumping.[15]

Fosbury was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1981.[16]

In 1988, Fosbury competed in the Masters Outdoor Nike World Games and taught at the jump clinic held during the meet. [17]

In 2013, Fosbury's high jump appeared in a Mazda commercial portraying "Game Changers"[18] and, with current-day Fosbury himself, in an ad for Wuaki TV.[19]

In 2015, Avicii released the music video for "Broken Arrows" (with lyrics by Zac Brown) that is loosely based on Fosbury's high-jumping story and personal life.[20]

In 2020, SuperWest Sports included Fosbury in its list of The Greatest Pac-12 Male Track and Field Athletes of All Time, naming him the best-ever at Oregon State University.[21]

Political career

In fall 2014, Fosbury ran as a Democrat for a seat in the Idaho House of Representatives against incumbent Republican Representative Steve Miller.[22][23] Miller won the election.[24]

In January 2019, Fosbury succeeded Larry Schoen as Blaine County Commissioner.[25]

Personal life

Fosbury graduated from Oregon State University in 1972 with a degree in civil engineering and is the co-owner of Galena Engineering, Inc. in Ketchum, Idaho, where he has lived since 1977.[26]

In March 2008, Fosbury was diagnosed with stage one lymphoma. He had surgery a month later to remove a cancerous tumor engulfing his lower vertebra. Due to concerns about the tumor's proximity to the spine, it was not completely removed and he was put on a chemotherapy regimen.[27] In March 2009, Fosbury announced that he was in remission.[28] In March 2014 he declared in an interview with the Corvallis Gazette-Times that he was "doing well" and was "clear of cancer."[5]

During the 2008 edition of "Sport Movies & TV – Milano International FICTS Fest" Fosbury was awarded with the Excellence Guirlande d'Honneur and entered in the FICTS "Hall of Fame".[29]

Fosbury is today a member of the "Champions for Peace" club, a group of 54 famous elite athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport, created by Peace and Sport, a Monaco-based international organization.[30]

Fosbury and fellow Olympians Gary Hall and Anne Cribbs are founders of World Fit, a non-profit organization that promotes youth fitness programs and Olympic ideals.[31]

See also


  1. ^ a b Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Dick Fosbury". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020.
  2. ^ "World Olympians Association Website". Woaolympians.com. Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  3. ^ "Dick Fosbury". Hall of Fame. USA Track and Field. Retrieved February 24, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hoffer, Richard (2009). Something in the Air: American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Simon & Schuster. pp. 69–80. ISBN 978-1-4165-8894-8.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Brad Fuqua, "Anything but a Flop: Fifty Years Ago, OSU High Jumper Dick Fosbury's New Style Launched His Event Toward New Heights" Corvallis Gazette-Times, March 29, 2014; pp. A1, A9. Online title: "Fosbury Takes Track and Field to New Heights", March 29, 2014.
  6. ^ USA Track & Field, and IAAF Rule 182
  7. ^ The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC – Part II: The Post-War Years (1948–1980), David Miller, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK: Mainstream Publishing Company, 2003.
  8. ^ Hoffer, Richard (September 22, 2009). Something in the Air: American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Simon and Schuster. p. 74. ISBN 9781416593898 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b Durso, Joseph (October 20, 1968). "Fearless Fosbury Flops to Glory". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  10. ^ Past Covers 1968 Archived March 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Trackandfieldnews.com. Retrieved on July 13, 2015.
  11. ^ Athletics at the 1968 Ciudad de México Summer Games: Men's High Jump | Olympics at. Sports-reference.com. Retrieved on July 13, 2015.
  12. ^ Hoffer, Richard (2009) Something in the Air: American Passion and Defiance in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Simon & Schuster
  13. ^ The Sports of the Times: A Day-by-Day Selection of the Most Important, Thrilling and Inspired Events of the Past 150 Years, edited by William Taaffe, David Fischer, New York, N.Y, U.S.: New York Times and St. Martin's Press, 2003, "October 20, 1968: Fearless Fosbury Flops to Glory," Joseph Durso, page 333.
  14. ^ Sports Biography – Dick Fosbury. hickoksports.com
  15. ^ International Olympic Committee News – Richard Fosbury: High Jump Revolution. Olympic.org (August 28, 2014). Retrieved on 2015-07-13.
  16. ^ "Fosbury's 'flop' puts him in Hall of Fame". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. August 15, 1981. p. 17.
  17. ^ National Masters News, Oct 1998, PDF Page 8 of 36. [1] Retrieved Jan 6, 2021
  18. ^ Buss, Dale. (April 26, 2013) Mazda Calls on Fosbury, Edison to Change its Game in New Ad Campaign. brandchannel. Retrieved on 2015-07-13.
  19. ^ "Wuaki TV Dick Fosbury". TellyAds.com.
  20. ^ "Avicii Releases Inspirational New 'Broken Arrows' Video: Watch". Billboard.com.
  21. ^ Ritchie, Steve (April 10, 2020). "Greatest Pac-12 Track & Field Athletes of All Time: Part I". superwestsports.com. Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  22. ^ Kruesi, Kimberlee (January 23, 2014). "Former Olympic Champ Fosbury Running for Idaho Legislature Seat". Times-News. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  23. ^ Popkey, Dan (January 23, 2014). "Now I know why one of the greatest athletes ever follows me on Twitter". Idaho Statesman. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  24. ^ Brown, Nathan (November 4, 2014). "Miller Squeaks to Win Over Fosbury; Stennett, Pence Win Handily". MagicValley.com. Times-News. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  25. ^ Schoen celebrated as Fosbury comes in Idaho Mountain Express and Guide
  26. ^ Sun Valley Guide – Raising the bar, A man, the 'Flop' and an Olympic gold medal. Svguide.com. Retrieved on July 13, 2015.
  27. ^ USATF – In the Stands With Dick Fosbury. Trackfield.teamusa.org. Retrieved on July 13, 2015.
  28. ^ Fosbury's Cancer Tumor Gone SI.com, March 26, 2009.
  29. ^ "Edition 2008". FICTS. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
  30. ^ Peace and Sport. Peace-sport.org. Retrieved on July 13, 2015.
  31. ^ Vogel, Charity (September 20, 2010). "Schools step up to 'World Fit' challenge". Buffalo News. Retrieved May 24, 2012.