Dick Fosbury, Olympic Champion & High Jump Pioneer, Dead at 76

By Jonathan Gault
March 13, 2023

Dick Fosbury, the man who revolutionized the high jump in the 1960s and whose namesake technique — the “Fosbury Flop” — endures to this day, died on Sunday at the age of 76, according to his agent Ray Schulte.

Few athletes in history have had a greater effect on the sport of track & field than Fosbury. Now, more than five decades after Fosbury popularized it by winning the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics, the Fosbury Flop remains the dominant technique for virtually all elite high jumpers.

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Prior to Fosbury, top high jumpers had cycled through a number of techniques, from the scissors to the Western roll to the straddle. As a high jumper at Medford High School in Oregon in the 1960s, Fosbury had trouble with the straddle and tried something new. He began going over the bar backwards, head-first, with the rest of his body following behind and arcing over the bar. Fosbury found success and enrolled at Oregon State University in 1965, where he became NCAA champion as a 21-year-old in 1968 with a jump of 2.19m (7-2 1/4) and improved to 2.20m (7-2 5/8) at the US Olympic Trials.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Fosbury won gold with an Olympic and American record of 2.24m (7-4 1/4). Though Fosbury was not the only athlete experimenting with the backwards-over-the-bar approach — a technique that became safer and more feasible as meets began replacing sand or sawdust landing pits with foam padding — his Olympic victory, footage of which was shared around the world, massively popularized the technique. Four years later in Munich, 28 of the 40 competitors in the men’s Olympic high jump utilized the Fosbury Flop. Now it is rare to go to an elite track meet and see anything else.

“This loss is huge!” said two-time Olympic bronze medalist Dwight Stones, who in 1973 jumped 2.30m (7-6 1/2) to become the first high jumper to break the world record utilizing the flop. “The Fosbury Flop was as big an innovation to our sport as the fiberglass vaulting pole and synthetic tracks. Dick was as humble as he was brilliant. Several times a year, including last Monday on his 76th birthday, I would thank him for all my jobs over the last 50 years. Every male and female high jumper who has made something of themselves as a result of their success in the event owes Dick an unpayable debt of gratitude.”

(Stones’ comments were relayed to LetsRun via ESPN’s John Anderson).

The first video below shows how Fosbury revolutionized the event. The second one shows footage from his Olympic victory in Mexico City.

Discuss Fosbury’s legacy on the LetsRun.com messageboard: MB: RIP Dick Fosbury, 1947-2023

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