Olympic Gold Medalist Dick Fosbury: Story & Photos

For years, the WSIA Summit In The Snow has invited a keynote speaker from outside our industry to entertain and educate the attendees. Highlights include NBA legend, Bill Walton and Grant Korgan of the Korg 3.0 Movement.

This year, we were joined by 1968 Olympic high jump Gold Medalist, Dick Fosbury. Not relying on athletic prowess alone, Dick’s success at those games was the culmination of a great athlete thinking outside the box, willing to challenge the status quo of his sport and introduce an innovative technique that changed his sport forever.

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“Test whatever you’re changing to get results that prove you’re going in the right direction,” said Fosbury early in his presentation, relating to his motivations to evolve his high jumping method. At that point, his sport used the “scissor kick” method for achieving the height needed to clear the bar. But Dick sensed there was something more. He experimented with a new approach, one that lead with his hips and shoulders involving an inverted rotation.

A skeptic at first, his college coach at Oregon could not argue with the strong results earned from using this “flopping” style, but insisted that Fosbury continue to practice both the “flop” and the “scissor kick” in training. Then, during his sophomore high jumping campaign, Fosbury set a new school record using the “flop.” From that point on, all the focus and training went into exclusively examining, studying and evolving this revolutionary “flopping” technique, the form that later would be dubbed as the “Fosbury Flop.”

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A touch of irony befell Dick in the spring of 1968. He was drafted into the armed services, yet after taking (and failing) four physicals he was issued a deferment by the draft board. A mere two weeks after his last failed physical, Dick went on to compete and win the Olympic trials to join the US team, and then went on to earn a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. “The image I will never forget, the feeling of the space between my body and the bar on my gold medal jump was my peak experience,” he recounted to the Summit In The Snow attendees.

Innovation has continued to be a prominent theme with Dick as he brought that same attitude into his engineering practice. He likened business as a puzzling solving objective and always looked to bring innovative solutions to the table. “To be innovative, you have to establish an environment, a culture where it’s acceptable for people to think outside the box once and a while. You need to practice and test. To make a revolutionary change, you need test it, make sure the results work and look forward to that happening.”

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Revolutionary doesn’t always mean a radical departure from the current business model, but rather a smooth, forward transition and growth. “You cannot waste your resources and just abandon where your current revenue is coming from,” he said. At the same time, Fosbury noted that industry competition calls for constant evolution for success. “If you don’t change, then you need to pay attention to your competitor that is coming up on your shoulder to do just that.”

Words: Jeff Barton

Photos: Joey Meddock

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