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Dick Fosbury, Olympic champion who revolutionized high jump, dies at 76

Dick Fosbury

Dick Fosbury, who won the 1968 Olympic high jump title using a new, back-first high jump technique known as the Fosbury Flop, died Sunday morning at age 76.

Fosbury died peacefully after a short bout with a recurrence of lymphoma, according to Schulte Sports Marketing & Public Relations, which had represented him.

Fosbury was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008.

Fosbury began working on his “flop” high jump technique as a high school sophomore in Medford, Oregon, and had it fully developed by graduation.

“I converted the old ‘scissors’ style, where a jumper would hurdle over the bar, and their legs would do a scissor kick,” he said in a 2017 interview for the NBC Sports film “1968" on the Mexico City Olympics. “I changed that style and modernized it to make it more efficient.”

He said he first used it an April 1963 meet, soon after turning 16 years old.

“Up until that time, my coach had been trying to teach me to use the straddle technique. My results were terrible. I was the worst guy in the entire district in the high jump,” Fosbury said. “I improved a half a foot that day just by changing my body position from sitting over the bar into a back layout.”

In the mid-1960s, Fosbury estimated that 95% of high jumpers used the western roll or straddle technique, where an athlete would throw an arm and a leg over the bar and go over on their belly.

“When we first saw him [doing the flop], we were saying, ‘Oh man, what a nutcase here with this guy,’” 1968 Olympic silver medalist Ed Caruthers said in 2017. “I’ve seen some unorthodox styles of jumping before, and none of them panned out.”

The term “Fosbury Flop” was coined by the Medford Mail Tribune newspaper, which ran the caption, “Fosbury flops over the bar,” according to “The Wizard of Foz,” a 2018 book that Fosbury co-wrote.

Fosbury said he was the only person doing the flop at the 1968 Olympics. He broke the Olympic record with it, clearing 2.24 meters for gold.

“When we were going for a medal, the crowd was completely silent and focused on my attempts each time that I jumped,” Fosbury said. “That was the best day of my life.

“The crowd loved [the flop]. The coaches hated it. Especially the ones that had adopted the straddle and really worked to train and coach their athletes to use it. So they didn’t like some guy coming in with something that was different and beat them.”

The technique has since become standard in the event.

“I introduced the entire world to a different way to clear the bar,” Fosbury said.

A statue depicting Fosbury performing his flop was unveiled at Oregon State, his alma mater, in 2018.

Fosbury was part of a legendary 1968 U.S. Olympic track and field team that also included 200m gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, plus gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m relays.