Challenge the status quo: a story of Dick Fosbury

Fosbury is perhaps one of the most influential athletes in modern history and holds a gold medal in the high jump from the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.
He is well known in athletic circles, and indeed outside of them as well thanks to his contribution to the high jump, and his innovation in jumping technique which is now known as the ‘Fosbury Flop’.
The Olympic High Jump changed forever on October 20th 1968, in Mexico City. The Games were proceeding as normal until 21-year-old Dick Fosbury from Portland, United States, took to the field. Fosbury was a civil engineering student coming from Oregon State University and his physique was unusual compared to the other competitors. Indeed, Fosbury was tall at 6 foot 4 inches, but he had a gangly body and he didn’t help his appearance with well-fitting athletic wear, instead he chose mis-matched running shoes to compete in, one being predominantly blue, the other predominantly white.
The high jump was one of the original, founding competitions of the Olympic Games and at the first Games in Athens in 1896 Ellery Clark of the United States took the gold medal with an Olympic record high jump of 1 meter and 81 centimetres. The jump was a standing jump directly from the floor just slightly behind the horizontal bar that is used to measure the jumps, with the winner being the person who can jump the highest without hitting, and dislodging the bar.
The method of jumping over the horizontal bar has changed somewhat over the years, but in a very incremental manner. A scissor kick was the first evolution, with competitors running up to the bar and jumping it one leg first. The straddle came next and then the ‘Western Roll’. Each time the changes helped competitors raise the bar and jump higher than before. Competitors always took off from their front foot and span round whilst in flight in order kick their trailing leg over the bar first.
Fosbury wasn’t a prolific jumper. His problem was that his gangly body and unusual frame wouldn’t let him jump to the heights needed to come close to competing at the highest levels of the sport. Fosbury applied his engineering knowledge and learnt that when he jumped, he was able to keep his centre of gravity below the bar, as long as his back was arched perfectly and he led the jump with his front foot, despite the fact his body was jumping over the bar.
In addition to this technical advantage, he also sought a mental advantage. He practiced the jumps in his head over and over before the competition and got into a peak mental state, often engaging with the crowd in order to give himself an extra boost and shot of adrenaline just before the jump. These two innovations, propelled him to the gold medal.

One man’s constraint because of his unusual body shape ushered in a huge change to an Olympic sport and the innovation Dick Fosbury designed and shared with the world, has led to a lasting impact on the Games.

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