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Essential Reading: How The Laziest High Jumper Flopped His Way to The Top of The Podium

For hundreds of years, high jumpers all competed the same way. Then one lanky teenager’s awkward attempts to clear the bar changed the sport forever.

As a misfit freshman who was far too uncoordinated for other sports, Dick Fosbury joined the high-jump squad of his Oregon high school’s track and field team. His coach taught Dick how to do the Western Roll, the sideways leap over the crossbar used by every half-decent American jumper in the early 1960's. But the harder he tried to master the technique, the less height Dick was able to clear. Then Fosbury quit trying to jump like everyone else. In this 2009 profile, veteran Sports Illustrated staff writer Richard Hoffer explains how Fosbury, seemingly hopeless but determined to improve, developed a signature style that eventually landed him on top of the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

"Consider, then, the Fosbury Flop, an upside-down and backward leap over a high bar, an outright—an outrageous!—perversion of acceptable methods of jumping over obstacles. An absolute departure in form and technique. It was an insult to suggest, after all these aeons, that there had been a better way to get over a barrier all along. And if there were, it ought to have come from a coach, a professor of kinesiology, a biomechanic, not an Oregon teenager of middling jumping ability."

"And yet Dick Fosbury was the perfect, maybe the only, vehicle for innovation when it came to the high jump."

Read the full profile here.

—Zach Maher

Image Credit: Rolling Stone

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