At the 1968 Olympics, Dan Fosbury shocked the world by winning the High Jump gold metal using a very unorthodox way of jumping.
Was the Olympic committee and the judges “ready” for this kind of jump? Did other competitors or their coaches in the event protest and claim that the method Fosbury used to clear the bar was somehow illegal? What was the reaction of the TV commentators broadcasting the event?
I know he wasn’t the first to use the “flop” in the high jump and its true that the reason one could try to clear the bar was because thick, heavy pads were invented for the pit to break ones fall (prior to this Olympics, sand was the only padding in the pit,) but he must have caused quite a stir when he went over that bar for the first time in front of millions of TV viewers.
4 years later, at the Munich Olympics, 28 of 40 competitors used the flop.
Since then, it’s been rare for a high-jumper to win a medal using another technique.
I don’t believe anyone considered it “cheating”, but he was criticized for the appearance of the maneuver, with newspapers of the time saying he looked like “a fish flopping on a boat” or “the world’s laziest jumper”.
It was utterly bizarre looking at the time, but no one suggested it was against the rules. Fosbury had jumped that way before the Olympic trials, so people knew of it. There was some grumping from purists, of course.
I recall someone saying it was dangerous to the jumper to fall backwards onto the cushion. His argument was laughed at when it was pointed out pole vaulters had been doing that same thing For years – and from twice the height.
It was amazing watching Fosbury back then. It was so unusual that it was hard to comprehend what he was doing. What I remember most was what he did just before he started his jump. He would stand completely still, concentrating, and slowly clenching and unclenching his fists before he took off.
I was only 11 years old at the time but I remember the discussion. I don’t recall any accusations that it illegal but certainly unorthodox. And nothing succeeds like success. It was a little like the “granny” foul shot in basketball, which was seen as “wrong” even though at least one player was very successful with it, and the geometry behind it is superior to the overhand shot–but unlike the Flop, it never caught on.
A bit before my time, but I was recently reading about the somersault long jump and references to the flop came up. The somersault long jump was ruled illegal as it was deemed dangerous. From what I read, there was also talk that the flop may be ruled illegal as it was deemed dangerous. They eventually determined that the flop was not dangerous, though, so it remained legal.
It should be noted that the landing pit for the high jump at the 1964 Olympics was fluffed up sawdust. Trying to flop and land on your back in fluffed up sawdust would most likely cause massive injuries. The introduction of foam landing pads made the flop possible in the mid-60s.
There’s a very simple reason the somersault long jump is illegal. People would die and/or paralyse themselves regularly in training if it was legal. Just far too dangerous.
Some Uni types did some study and worked out that it probably was a more efficient mode of jumping, and likely to lead to further distance (in long jump all that ‘running in mid-air’ is to stop the natural forward rotation of the body following a jump). So instead of stopping the rotation via a slightly awkward take-off technique, just go with it and complete a full rotation.
There aren’t many athletes alive today that revolutionized their sport, but Dick Fosbury sure did in 1968 when many people saw his unique jumping style in the Olympics. Prior to that, not many people knew of it.