American Dick Fosbury competes in the men's high jump at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, winning gold with his innovative 'Fosbury flop'
Los Angeles (AFP) - Athletics legend Dick Fosbury, who revolutionised high jumping with his signature “Fosbury flop” has died, his agent confirmed on Monday. He was 76.
Fosbury’s agent Ray Schulte said in a statement that the 1968 Olympics gold medallist had died peacefully in his sleep early Sunday from lymphoma.
“Dick will be greatly missed by friends and fans from around the world. A true legend, and friend of all!”
Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1947, Fosbury was to become one of the most influential athletes in the history of track and field for developing the innovative high-jumping technique which upended his sport in the 1960s.
Prior to Fosbury’s emergence, high jumpers typically attempted to clear the bar using the “straddle technique” in which they would take off face forward while attempting to twist their body mid-leap over the bar.
Fosbury, however, turned the conventional wisdom on its head with his new approach which would become immortalised as the “Fosbury Flop” and remains to this day the standard technique used by elite high jumpers.
Instead of tackling the bar head on, the rangy, 6ft 4in Fosbury would arc towards the bar on his run-up before taking off backwards and “flopping” over the bar.
“Few athletes in history have done their thing as uniquely as Dick Fosbury,” former US high jump coach John Tansley wrote in 1980.
“He literally turned his event upside down.”
US track and field great Michael Johnson led the tributes to Fosbury on Monday.
“The world legend is probably used too often,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Dick Fosbury was a true LEGEND! He changed an entire event forever with a technique that looked crazy at the time but the result made it the standard.”
Fosbury first began experimenting with new ways of high jumping while still in school, hitting upon his new technique in 1963 during a competition in which he jumped a personal best of 1.65m using an old technique.
- Olympic glory -
“Then they raised the bar and I knew I had to try something different to get over it,” Fosbury told Athletics Weekly in 2011.
“I knew I had to lift my hips up and to do that I needed to get my shoulders back out of the way. And I cleared the bar at the next height, eventually jumping 1.77m so I improved by 15cm that day.”
It was not until 1968 however that Fosbury’s new approach gained global attention.
Victory at the US college championships was followed by a win at the US Olympic trials in Los Angeles.
At the Mexico City Olympics, Fosbury won the gold medal after clearing a height of 2.24m with his third jump – a new Olympic and US record – to pip team-mate Ed Caruthers, with the Soviet Union’s Valentin Gavrilov taking bronze.
Fosbury’s performances at the Olympics electrified the stadium, with Mexican fans delighted by the gangly American college student’s bold approach.
“No track and field athlete at the Olympic Games drew more whoops of delight or shrieks of disbelief from the crowds … than did Dick Fosbury, the architect of an acrobatic m that has become known as the Fosbury Flop,” the New York Times commented at the time.
Fosbury would say later that he never saw himself as a revolutionary, and did not anticipate that his style would become the standard technique for high jumping.
“I have had the blessing and good fortune to have made a contribution to the sport but I did not set out to do this,” he told Athletics Weekly.
“I was not trying to change the event. I knew that my technique was my path to success. And I had this technique which was mine – mine alone.”
Fosbury was the only competitor using the “Fosbury Flop” in the 1968 Olympics. By the time of the 1972 Munich Games, 28 of 40 competitors in the discipline had adopted his style.
“I thought that after I won the gold, one or two jumpers would start using it, but I never really contemplated that it would become the universal technique,” Fosbury said in 2012.
“Yet, it only took a generation.”