He decided to break with convention and the standard way of doing things, and reached the highest level as a result. The American athlete Dick Fosbury, who revolutionized the high jump with a technique that took his name, died Sunday, March 12, as a result of lymphoma, announced his agent. The Olympic champion of the discipline in Mexico City, in 1968, was 76 years old.
Only a few athletes have left their names to a particular move in their sport. Soccer has the panenka, figure skating and gymnastics have several figures named after their inventor – like the axel, for example – but in athletics, the “Fosbury flop” is unique, and has ended up conquering the world of high jumping.
Born in Portland, Oregon – in the northwestern United States, the birthplace of Nike – in 1947, Richard “Dick” Fosbury was not an inventor, but he was determined to revolutionize the science and technique of his sport after carefully studying every parameter. Although this kid who “loved games, numbers, building things” would go on to become an engineer, he would always say “this whole story is just an accident,” whenever asked to break down how he discovered his technique – oftentimes before a new round of Olympic Games. An unexpected misunderstanding, a story of a kid ready to do anything to win. “The goal was not to invent anything,” he assured The Team in 2012. “I developed this new technique when I was jumping because I didn’t want to lose.”
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At 16, the young man was part of the track and field team at his high school in Medford, in southern Oregon, but did not excel. He did not make his high school soccer and basketball teams, and often said that he was the worst high jumper in his school, if not in Oregon. Practicing the “scissors,” an already obsolete technique consisting of approaching the bar from the front and passing one leg after the other, the tall young man – who ultimately grew to 1.93 meters – had a ceiling. His coach asked him to start doing a belly roll, a technique that had come into fashion at the time, with a sideways, horizontal roll around the bar. Fosbury complied… but the move did not stick.
Frustrated, one day he decided to do as he pleased. After his run-up, he turned his back to the bar and rolled it up. Improving his personal best by 15 centimeters that day, he repeated the exercise the following weeks, and forced his coach to accept his new technique. Giving the impression of lying down during his jump, the young athlete attracted the eye of some photographers, who soon caption the image: “The laziest high jumper in the world.”
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