If You Wanna Make History, You Gotta Do Something That Has Never Been Done Before
Up until 1968 no man had ever crossed the high bar backward and won in an Olympic competition; it simply was not the way the high jump was done. At every track meet and Olympic event for more than 100 years, the bar was jumped one of two ways: either by the western roll or by the scissor kick. Naturally, it was crazy to think that a 16 year-old high school sophomore would change that.
Dick Fosbury & the Fosbury Flop
Dick Fosbury was having trouble qualifying for his high school high jump competition. In order to qualify, Dick needed to cross the bar at a minimum of five feet, but try after try, he couldn’t make it over. He was using the western roll, a tactic that his 11th grade coaches continued to push at practice. Dick soon realized that the western roll wasn’t working for him. Rather than give up, he decided to try something different. One afternoon he jumped over the bar backward, and to his surprise, surpassed the five-foot mark with ease. Despite Dick’s success with his backward crossing strategy though, his 11th grade coaches continued to make him practice the western roll. The coaches agreed that his technique was fine for getting him to 5’6, but that it wouldn’t get him much further.
A few years later, Dick was practicing on his college’s high jump team, and attempted his backward technique. Although he was successful, his coach once again said it was a bad idea, and that Dick should only use the western roll.
You won't make the Olympics with that technique.
Dick was in school during the early 1960s, and for more than 100 years, the western roll or scissor kick were the only techniques people used for the high jump. The world had only seen these two methods since the sport’s beginning, so jumping over the bar backward seemed outrageous and silly to most. Nonetheless, Dick continued to practice his backward jump, and despite what his coaches told him, began using it in competitions.
After one of Dick’s performances, a newspaper ran the headline, “Fosbury Flops Over the Bar,” meant to mock Dick’s backward cross over. The name stuck, and from that point on the Fosbury Flop was Dick’s signature move.
Among the mocking headlines, were several other obstacles working against Dick’s new technique: it wasn’t making him the highest jumper, his coaches didn’t believe it would get him far, and he had 100 years of high jump history working against him. There was no evidence that this was a good idea, but Dick had a feeling he was on to something big, and eventually his persistence paid off. When Dick crossed the bar at 6’4, his coach finally gave in and encouraged him develop this new jump.
Following his coach’s support, and a lot of time spent practicing and honing a new technique, Dick began to win. He won competition after competition, yet few people tried to mimic the Fosbury Flop. Not even his own teammates tried the technique that they watched Dick practice daily. As Dick continued to win more competitions, and become even better, the Fosbury Flop eventually got him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
Jump forward to Oct. 20, 1968 in the University Olympic Stadium in Mexico City. Dick has made several successful jumps, and is preparing for a 7’2 attempt. He runs, jumps, positions himself to once again cross over backward, and misses. It was a defeating moment that brought back so many memories of naysayers; The coaches were right. The Fosbury Flop was just that - a flop. You can’t jump the bar backward and get higher than doing the western roll; that’s why his competitors were beating him. Maybe he wouldn’t win the Olympics like he had dreamt of for so long. He could feel the crowd watching to see what he’d do next.
It wasn't over yet for Dick; he still had one more attempt. Not at 7’2” but at 7’4! He was more determined than ever. He ran up to the bar, threw his body in the air, arched his back and with his hands by his side, Dick made a 7'4 jump to set an Olympic record and take home the gold.
That day, Dick not only made his gold medal dream a reality, but also he changed the history of the sport forever. The Fosbury Flop, something that was once seen as a mockery and a failure, is now the only technique that high jumpers use. Dick wasn’t afraid to try something different, and his story is a great lesson to all of us: if you are going to make history, you must believe that you can do something that has never been done before.