Dick Fosbury, a young high jumper in the early 1960s, had trouble mastering the standard technique, called the straddle. Instead he began doing the high jump by approaching the bar with his back to it, doing a modified scissor-kick and going over the bar backwards and horizontal to the ground. As goofy as it looked, it worked. Dubbed the "Fosbury Flop" by a Medford, Oregon reporter, Fosbury caused a sensation when he won the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics, jumping a height of 2.24 meters. The Fosbury Flop has since become a standard technique for high jumpers.
Born Richard Douglas Fosbury in Portland, Oregon, he was educated at Oregon State University. He started experimenting with his new technique while in high school, improving his results dramatically with the new form.
In 1968 Fosbury won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) indoor and outdoor high jump titles and placed third in the event at the United States Olympic trials. At the 1968 Olympic Games his innovative style captivated the crowd as he cleared every height up to 2.22 m (7 ft 3 1/4 in) without a miss. (In the high jump event the bar is moved incrementally higher as each successful competitor clears it at each height, until only one competitor remains. If there is a tie, the competitor with the fewest misses is declared the winner.) At the height of 2.24 m (7 ft 4 1/4 in), all the remaining competitors failed, and Fosbury missed his first two attempts before clearing the height on his final attempt, winning the gold medal and setting a new Olympic record.
At the 1968 games Fosbury revolutionized the sport of high jumping with a new technique, which became known as the Fosbury Flop. Instead of leaping facing the bar and swinging first one leg and then the other over the bar in a scissoring motion?the dominant method of the time?Fosbury turned just as he leapt, flinging his body backward over the bar with his back arched, following with his legs and landing on his shoulders.
The next year Fosbury won the NCAA outdoor title again. He failed to make the 1972 Olympic team, and he never set a world record during his career, but his innovative style of jumping had a profound effect, becoming the dominant method in the sport.
He was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1981 and into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992.