Dick Fosbury doing the Fosbury Flop and winning an Olympic Gold Medal

On this Day:

On March 6, 1947, Dick Fosbury was born in Portland, Oregon.

Dick Fosbury is best known as the creator of the “Fosbury Flop”, a new way of performing the high jump; up till that point most high jumpers were using the “straddle method” to get over the high jump bar. His method of jumping gained world attention at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when he not only won the gold medal for high jump, he also set a new Olympic record at 2.24 meters (7 feet 4.25 inches). In 1972 just 4 years later in Munich, 28 of the 40 competitors in the high jump used the “Fosbury Flop”. Today, it is the most popular high jumping technique in modern high jumping.

Before Fosbury, most elite jumpers used the straddle technique, Western Roll, Eastern cut-off or scissors jump to clear the bar. Landing surfaces had been sandpits or low piles of matting and high jumpers had to land on their feet or at least land carefully to prevent injury. With the advent of deep foam matting, high jumpers were able to be more adventurous in their landing styles and hence experiment with styles of jumping.


The center of gravity stays under the bar.

The approach (or run-up) in the Flop style of high jump is characterized by (at least) the final four or five steps being run in a curve, allowing the athlete to lean into his or her turn, away from the bar. This allows the center of gravity to be lowered even before knee flexion, giving a longer time period for the take-off thrust. Additionally, on take-off, the sudden move from inward lean to outwards produces a rotation of the jumper’s body along the bar’s axis, aiding clearance.

Combined with the rotation around the jumper’s vertical axis (center around which something rotates; waist) produced by the drive leg (similar to an ice skater spinning around on one spot), the resulting body position on bar clearance is laid out supine with the body at ninety degrees to the bar with the head and shoulders crossing the bar before the trunk and legs. This gives the Flop its characteristic “backward over the bar” appearance, with the athlete landing on the mat on their shoulders and back.

While in flight, the athlete can progressively arch shoulders, back, and legs in a rolling motion, keeping as much of the body as possible below the bar. It is theoretically possible for the center of mass to pass under the bar.

While the Straddle style required strength in the takeoff knee and could be used by relatively burly athletes (cf. Valeriy Brumel), the Flop allowed athletes of a slender build to use their co-ordination to greater effect and not risk knee injuries, which they had previously suffered from other styles.

Predominantly, athletes using the Flop use a “J” shaped approach, where the first three to five strides head in a straight line at ninety degrees to the bar, with the final four to five being run in a curve noted above.

Fosbury himself cleared the bar with his hands by his sides, whereas some athletes cross the bar with their arms held out to the side or even above their heads, optimizing their mass distribution. Studies show that variations in approach, arm technique, and other factors can be adjusted to achieve each athlete’s best performance.

For reasons similar to those noted as drawbacks to the “J” shaped approach, the Flop’s optimal speed of approach is not a full-out sprint. Similarly, increasing the number of strides beyond eight or ten is not recommended unless the athlete has achieved high consistency in the approach and can handle the increased speed. The angle of take-off towards the bar is usually somewhere between fifteen and thirty degrees. The angle must not be too shallow, or the jumper jumps too far along the bar, landing on it. If the angle is too wide, there is not enough time to “layout” in the air.

The “broken” leg (which is thrust into the air first at take-off) is always the nearer leg to the bar. Thus someone who uses a left foot take-off (where the left foot transmits the jump force and is the latter to leave the ground) will approach the bar from its right-hand side, curving to his left to approach his right shoulder. The right leg will drive into the air, and the jumper’s body rotates anti-clockwise around the vertical axis to present his back to the bar in flight.

As well as driving the leg and hips at take-off, the athlete should drive or even swing one or both arms into the air, contributing to the upwards momentum (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

There was a film made about Dick Fosbury’s high jump technique…

It was a flop.

Second, a Song:

Olympics on YouTube.com has produced the following video:

High jumper Dick Fosbury surprises the world and revolutionized the jump with his “Fosbury Flop” at the Olympic Games Mexico City 1968.

Find more about the story behind Record-breaking moments in “The Olympics on the Record” series: http://bit.do/EN-OTR.

Here is how Dick Fosbury changed the high jump forever from The Olympic Channel. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I adapted an antiquated style and modernized it to something that was efficient. I didn’t know anyone else in the world would be able to use it and I never imagined it would revolutionize the event.” – Dick Fosbury

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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