On October 20, 1968, Dick Fosbury, a 21-year-old athlete from Oregon, won a gold medal in the Olympics which was held in Mexico City. His high jump was unrivaled at 7 feet 4¼ inches. This made him not only deserving of the gold medal, but also as the title holder of an Olympic record. This was the first victory for the Americans since their last one in 1956. It was also the first time that the world has seen anyone jump like Fosbury did. His unique jumping style – called the “Fosbury Flop” – debuted internationally during the 1969 Olympics.
One journalist who has seen him jump likened his style to that of a person who was falling off the back of a truck. The popular method used at that time was the “scissors” or the straddle-style forward kick over the bar. He must have elicited some surprised looks from the judges and the crowd when he went midair, formed a ‘C’ curve, and then landed on his back. Fosbury told how he takes off on his right or outside foot rather than the left and then twists his body so that he has his back to the bar, forming an arch and then kicking his legs so that these will not touch it. While this looks weird, he says, this technique worked better for him.
Fosbury discovered that he did not execute the scissors kick well. He was in fact terrible at it. While this may be so, he did not give up and tried to find another way to clear the bar. That is when he discovered the Flop in high school, which let him jump higher that his peers on his high-school track team. He explains that from a physics’ standpoint, the arched back helps in easily clearing the bar without touching it, making it more efficient than the scissors method. This same method was what made him win in the 1968 NCAA and the Olympic Trials.
Fosbury clearly set the bar with what he discovered back then. When the Olympic Games was over, he told reporters that some kids, especially those who’ve never found success with the scissors method, will probably try doing it the way he did. Right after he said this, kids were idolizing him, mimicking his Flop on a pile of leaves and even on the sofa. Many parents and coaches became worried that the Flop might cause accidents for the athletes. Even U.S. Olympic Coach Pat Jordan worried that high jumpers might end up with broken necks if they choose to use this method. Fast forward, the coach’s prediction did not come true. A decade later, the Flop became the standard in high-jumping. No record holder since 1980 used any other method other than the Flop.