In 1968, the high jump was a well-established sport. You would run, you would jump, and you would make your way over a pole in one of several ways. In older days you’d likely use the scissors, scissoring out your legs as you glided over, but by the sixties you’d probably be using the straddle or the belly roll, facing down and basically rolling over the bar. Whichever style you used, you’d be facing forward when you made your jump. Imagine trying to jump backward. That would be ridiculous.
Dick Fosbury, however, didn’t think so. All through high school, he’d been developing a backward-facing style, and now, in college, it was taking him higher than it ever had. He wasn’t sure why he did it. He didn’t care what anyone else was doing. He just jumped with the feeling of the thing. People joked and laughed. Fosbury looked just as ridiculous as they thought he would (and his inspirations sounded a bit ridiculous, too. When asked about his approach, he told Sports Illustrated, “I don’t even think about the high jump. It’s positive thinking. I just let it happen”). Certainly, no one expected him to make the U.S. Olympic team—let alone win the Olympics. But win he did, setting American and Olympic records with his 7-foot-4.25-inch (2.24-meter) jump, only 1.5 inches short of the world record.
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