Fosbury showed it takes a rare individual to alter a sport forever

I don’t mean athletes who have evolved their sport like Tiger Woods or the Williams sisters or Pele or Michael Jordan. I mean athletes who have really changed the direction of their sport.

Dick Fosbury was one of a select few who can claim to have changed their sport forever. And that’s why the high jumper’s death in the past week has made far more waves than almost any other track and field athlete in history.

Fosbury’s influence is at least superficially known to even those with only a passing knowledge of athletics. Having a technique of the same name is not uncommon in gymnastics or figure skating, where a new combination or move, often more difficult than the previous one, is named after the person who first successfully performed it.

But for it to happen in athletics is unique. Fosbury is the only person in the sport to have enjoyed that privilege.

And that’s why he’s so remarkable; To have had the foresight to take what is standard in your sport, throw it out the window and come up with something that looks totally out of step with anything that came before is so unusual in sporting history it almost is unknown.

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As most know, and as the countless obituaries of Fosbury have detailed, the high jump can be divided into pre-Fosbury and post-Fosbury.

Until the American showed up, high jumpers were scissor-bouncing over the bar. But when he emerged in the 1960s and decided to arch his back and wrap his legs around the bar to break it, it was as alien as it would have been to run the 100m backwards.

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But the difference was clear. Fosbury no longer managed to climb five feet (approx. 1.52 m), but within a few years almost 6.5 feet (almost 2 m). The improvement in his level was amazing and put him on track to become an Olympic champion in 1968 with a jump of over 2.24 m (7 ft 4 in), which was an Olympic record.

Despite considerable skepticism in the early days, by this point his technique was well on its way to catching on.

Today it would be unthinkable to see an elite high jumper using any technique other than the Fosbury Flop as it came to be known.

The courage and innovation to create such a legacy should never be underestimated.

The mind of a top athlete is weird. While there’s a constant drive to improve, there’s also a nagging concern that too many technical changes could be detrimental. There is, after all, a reason why things are made the way they are.

Technology in top athletes differs surprisingly little. Yes, there are small differences and quirks that set athletes apart, but in essence the technique is broadly similar.

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Few disagree on the basics of running efficiently or hitting a tennis ball well or throwing it far.

The same was true of high jump technique until Fosbury came along.

It takes someone special to decide that there really is a better way than the accepted technique.

When Fosbury rebuilt the high jump, he completely changed the shape and size of the athlete who would likely excel. The Fosbury Flop, by lowering the athlete’s center of gravity, allowed far taller individuals than before to jump high.

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The American was repeatedly warned that his technique would not work and he was likely to injure himself. Apparently this turned out not to be true. If he had heeded those warnings, where would the high jump be now?

And so Fosbury proved that with all sports science and research in top-level sport, sometimes gut feeling is the best performance accelerator.


There’s something about watching sport live that just can’t be replicated on television.

It can really give kids the incentive to play a particular sport themselves, and the bigger and better the place they see it, the greater the impact the experience will have on them.

That’s why the announcement that Caledonia Gladiators, Scotland’s basketball franchise that includes both a men’s and women’s team, is developing a £20m five-seater arena with a capacity of 6,000 spectators is extremely encouraging news for Scottish sport.

With the Caledonia Gladiators men’s team currently playing at the Emirates Arena and the women’s team at The Lagoon in Paisley, the line-up is far from ideal.

While this new facility is clearly great news for Caledonia Gladiators, particularly in terms of a lasting base, a world class facility to play in and also the potential to grow their fan base, it is also an extremely important step for them Sport in this country because the more world class facilities we have where we can play and watch sport the better.

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