Fosbury, the man who revolutionized the high jump, is dead

He had revolutionized the high jump with a technique that became a school and now bears his name: the former American athlete Fosbury, Olympic champion in 1968 died Sunday at age 76, announced his agent Monday. At the Mexico Olympics, he thrilled the public, intrigued the technicians and entertained the journalists who were sated with events, each one more moving than the next. All over the world, his eccentric way of rising interested the athleticism of people who were refractory to it.

The “Fosbury flop” took the world by storm

Nine jumps were enough for him to make the superiority of his revolutionary style dazzling. Dropping the bar for the first time at 2.24m, when he had already won the title, he cleared this height on his third attempt before tackling the world record at 2.29m. On his second attempt, he was pretty close to becoming taller than the great Valeri Brumel.

Fascinated by this long young man who rocked back and forth then described a curve both graceful and energetic before turning his back on conventions, the trainers rushed to their treatises on biomechanics. Less formal, more open to novelties, the young people soon made it a huge success. Requiring less power and allowing a higher approach speed, more fun to learn too, the “Fosbury flop” was going to conquer the world.

“I wonder how I manage to do that”

The son of English immigrants from whom he had inherited their pallor and bearing, Fosbury deeply loved athletics. Quite sickly, his gifts apparently had nothing to serve this love. To cross 1.16 m at eleven years old, and even 1.77 m at sixteen years old, does not announce a glorious tomorrow. When he entered the University of Oregon, in Eugene, in 1966, he was at 2 meters by tinkering with his chisel and had never been able to rise more than 1.80 m by clumsily trying his hand at ventral. Of this style which then reigned supreme, his trainer, Berny Wagner, set about teaching him the basics. And abdicated. “ There’s nothing to get out of it he blurted out, completely disgusted by this loser.

Fosbury, meanwhile, was undeterred. Strictly speaking, he is not the inventor of the back roll, others have preceded or imitated him in the first hesitant steps of this new technique. He continued his experiments, indifferent to jokes, refining his method with the faith of an authentic researcher. But not without surprising himself. ” I wonder how I manage to do that”he confessed each time he watched the films of his curious jumps.

Mexico City was his first major international competition. Having never put spikes outside the United States before, his reputation had not gone beyond the small circle of insiders when he presented himself on the saltire on Sunday, October 20, 1968, the last day of the week of athletics and Games. He left a few hours later world famous.

 Fosbury in 2020. (S. Roudeix/L'Équipe)

Fosbury in 2020. (S. Roudeix/L’Équipe)

The only athlete to have given his name to a technique, the glory that fell on his modest shoulders was too heavy. Rejecting all the fabulous contracts that were offered to him, he suffered a slight depression, briefly lost his way in an ephemeral professionalism, then led a wise life as a civil engineer with his wife and son. Many years after his triumph, the sympathetic Fosbury deflated the importance of his role by uring: ” If I hadn’t found this style, someone else would have done it for me. »

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