Dick Fosbury Introduces ‘The Flop’ in High Jump
1968 Mexico Olympic Games
Before Dick Fosbury there were two techniques used by high jump athletes. The upright scissors method, in which the athlete threw one leg and then the other to jump over the bar, was going out of fashion. The predominant technique used was the straddle method in which the athlete went over the high jump bar facing down, and lifted his legs individually over the bar.
Dick Fosbury of the United States came up with a new technique because he was no good with the two prevailing ones. He ran in a curve and turned his back to the bar. Then he jumped to arch his back over the bar and finally kicked his legs out to clear the bar. His technique was characterized by backwards over the bar appearance and the athlete landed on his shoulders and back. His technique was named ‘Fosbury Flop’ after him. The Los Angeles times wrote about his technique – “he goes over the bar like a guy being pushed out of a 30-storey window”.
A year before the 1968 Olympics Dick was ranked 61 in the world. Even when the Olympics started no one believed that he had a chance of winning a medal. People who had seen his technique had the view – “It’s pretty funny and everything, but he’ll never do anything”.
Men’s high jump final at Mexico was a gruelling event. It lasted for more than four hours. The crowd noticed the guy with the funny action. They laughed at first but as Dick started clearing the bar repeatedly they started to cheer him. It got Fosbury fired and he won the gold medal clearing 2.24m and creating a new Olympic record.
Four years later at Munich Olympic Games 28 of the 40 competitors used Fosbury’s technique. The Fosbury Flop, which was ridiculed when Dick invented it, is now the standard technique used by high jump athletes. Dick Fosbury’s story reminds us that if everyone is doing something in a certain way it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best way to do it.