By Phil Minshull, Special to Universal Sports
Rarely can a sportsman or woman genuinely boast of revolutionizing their event but high jumper Dick Fosbury is one of the few who can make such a claim.
Fosbury won the 1968 Olympic Games gold medal in front of an amazed crowd in Mexico City and the event was never the same again.
From the 1976 Olympics to the present day, every single men’s high jump medal at the Games has been won by a jumper utilizing the back-first method pioneered by Fosbury.
There has been no world-class high jumper of either sex using any other technique since the late 1980s.
At high school, the teenage Fosbury found the conventional high jump techniques of the time hard to master and, thanks also to the arrival of soft foam landing beds, he gradually evolved the style which became known as the Fosbury Flop.
Legend has it that his technique got that name after a newspaper report of a high school competition in his home town of Medford, Oregon, described him as looking like ‘fish flopping in a boat.’
By 1968, during his junior year at Oregon State University, Fosbury started to challenge the top U.S. jumpers.
He won the NCAA title and then went on to secure his place on the Olympic team with a third place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Whether Fosbury would have such an indelible place in athletics and Olympic history if he had not been on the podium in Mexico City is a moot point because he literally and metaphorically rose to the occasion.
He cleared every height up to 7-3¼ (2.24m) with his first attempt to hold the lead throughout the competition and then went over an Olympic record of 7-4¼ (2.24m) to clinch the gold medal and inspire legions of imitators.