Perhaps no single athlete changed a sport the way that Dick Fosbury and the Fosbury Flop forever altered the high jump.
Prior to the mid-1960s, nearly all high jumpers used either a scissors or straddle method to their jumps. Then along came Fosbury, who as a high school and college athlete developed a new technique where he approached the bar at an angle and leaped backwards, flinging his head over the bar first.
“Sometimes I see movies, and I really wonder how I do it,” Fosbury later said.
Benefiting from softer landing surfaces throughout the years, Fosbury’s new way of jumping was dubbed the “Fosbury Flop” by a local newspaper and the nickname stuck.
“Quite honestly, there was no model, nothing similar to what I was doing,” Fosbury said in an interview years later. My high school coaches “really didn’t have anything to help guide me, only to encourage me.”
Fosbury in 1968 flopped his way to the first of two consecutive NCAA championships. Later that year, after barely surviving a second round of tryouts, he claimed gold and set an Olympic record with a jump of 2.24 meters (7 feet 4.19 inches) at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games.
“When I got to The Olympics, though, that really was the first time where I began to talk to other coaches who insisted and told me I would never succeed with this technique I’d developed,” he said.
“All I could do was shrug my shoulders and say this is what I do and it’s a game. Let’s go see what happens.”
From that point forward, the Fosbury Flop became the most popular technique in the high jump.