High Jump Innovator
September 14, 2009 6:57 PM   Subscribe

The Revolutionary "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."
posted by dhruva (27 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome article, but this post is useless without a video.

As revolutionary as his technique was, I wonder if he would have soared as high (and landed as unscathed) if the foam pit had not appeared at the same time.
posted by Frank Grimes at 7:16 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Great closing line: "But that was it for the camper."
posted by breath at 7:29 PM on September 14, 2009

Sport hack by the nerd athlete. Bravo!
posted by Edward L at 7:33 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the video, FG, that's indeed just what this needed.
posted by davejay at 7:41 PM on September 14, 2009

Weird as it was, there were others who used even more unorthodox techniques.

Thanks to dhartung for the Time magazine link within this AskMeFi question.
posted by Tube at 7:46 PM on September 14, 2009

Yes indeed, thanks for the link to the video!
posted by dhruva at 7:58 PM on September 14, 2009

Great story. The author really helped paint the picture both what the jumps looked like to the fans in the stadium and what it looked & felt like for the athletes. High drama in Mexico City.

I was bugged by the shenanigans pulled by Fosbury's coach at the Tahoe trials:
But he hadn't made the team yet. Hartfield could still close him out on misses if he made the height. As Hartfield lined up, though, Fosbury's coach had a sudden inspiration. Since 7'3" would have been an Oregon State record, Wagner asked to remeasure, so that it would qualify. Hartfield didn't notice this and started for the bar, stopping only when he saw the congestion of officials under the standards. It shook him up.
posted by morganw at 8:00 PM on September 14, 2009

I always used to sort of do that move into my bunk bed, although it was sort of off the middle of the ladder over the little safety rail, turning 180 degrees on my heels, and my dad would always say "there's the Fosbury flop" and I've since had a vague idea about this dude that came up with a new high jump but never had the whole story, so thank you very much dhruva.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:47 PM on September 14, 2009

This paragraph cracked me up. Some would call it classic Richard Hoffer:

There have not been many breakthroughs in the annals of personal locomotion. Running forward, for example, is still considered the quickest unassisted way to get from point A to point B. Perhaps early man experimented with backpedaling as a means of escape, but the technique probably did not survive the first saber-toothed tiger. All the important means of fleeing and chasing were established early on, and with a certainty that only life-and-death consequences can provide.

Hoffer's a wonderful writer. Well worth a cruise through SI's back pages.

Tyson-Holyfield I Real Deal
Tyson-Holyfield II Feeding Frenzy
Athletes Dying Young A Time to Mourn
Obit Mickey Mantle
Extreme sports Xtremely Xasperating
Joe Jurevicius Home, Where the Heart Is
O.J. Simpson Fatal Attraction
Barry Bonds The Importance of Being Barry
posted by stargell at 9:04 PM on September 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

Great links, Pops, and I couldn't agree more: Hoffer does some of the best work at SI.

He's not the sort of New Journalism pop-culture hack who fill most publications. He's more directly a graduate of the Hemingway / Hunter Thompson school of "men's" sports writing.
posted by rokusan at 9:52 PM on September 14, 2009

Fantastic story. Thanks for the link.
posted by flotson at 10:13 PM on September 14, 2009

The Fosbury Flop fascinated me as a kid, because it was so unlike the technique we were taught for all the other athletic events.

Sprinting, javelin, long jump—for all of these you can see how they relate directly back to actual survival skills when hunting tigers or fighting Visigoths or whatever. Even a pre-Fosbury high jump, you can imagine someone leaping a fence or whatever. But what general application does the Fosbury Flop have? You can get over a very thin bar under certain forgiving circumstances (space to run up in a curve, foam landing pad, no pressure to be ready for further action after you land, etc)—that's really it.

Hoffer makes a similar point, but he seems to characterize the flop as an amazing advance in the field of human movement in and of itself. I see it as more of an ingenious exploit targeting the modern high jump event—it wouldn't work if the rules or equipment were different, even if the goal was still "highest jumper wins."
posted by No-sword at 10:24 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dear Dick

I'm sorry to admit that I laughed when I read that your front teeth had been knocked out.

Although I spent a decade (happily and fairly successfully) attempting to emulate your weird jumping style, it didn't have a particularly auspicious beginning.

Brother Dermott, the cantankerous athletics coach at my school, insisted that I change from the scissors to the flop. My first attempt saw me somehow bang my knee against my face which broke one of my front teeth.

I still blame you.

posted by peacay at 10:28 PM on September 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

An interesting story, but I personally found the writing style irritating. That paragraph that stargell quoted I thought was one of the most irritating. An allusion to the evolutionary pressures in a (mythologised) stone age and sabre-tooth tigers? Not original at all; very hackneyed. I understand this is an example of American 'folksy' writing but Garrison Keillor, for one, does it much better.
posted by Sitegeist at 10:33 PM on September 14, 2009

Sitegeist, you must not read much sports writing. Hoffer's a literary giant... relatively speaking.
posted by rokusan at 10:43 PM on September 14, 2009

I could see what he was trying to do rokusan, it just came across as very laboured.

I haven't read much sport writing no, but I do acknowledge there can be very good sports writing. However, most sports reporting and writing is full of cliché. In my opinion, the best sports writing completely avoids this or, as in a certain vein of Australian sports reporting I am best familiar with, dryly parodies the tendency.
posted by Sitegeist at 11:02 PM on September 14, 2009

Innovators from the off. Reminds me of Graeme Obree's feat in cycling, he's been the same type of half-frustrated-but-obsessed outsider. But his innovations did not catch on in the same way.
posted by megob at 12:03 AM on September 15, 2009

That was a great article. Thanks for this post!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:21 AM on September 15, 2009

Innovators from the off

Yep, excellent. It seems petty and arbitrary to reject achievement over something like how you sit on a bicycle, when considerable advances in sporting achievements have been made with the help of equally arbitrary choices to adopt technology (as Frank Grimes said, the foam pit; and also the high-tech springy pole vault pole; improved track surfaces; and so on).
posted by raygirvan at 5:14 AM on September 15, 2009

Experts are at a loss to explain why the "Fosbury Flop" works. "I wouldn't advise anybody else to try it," says Oregon State Coach Berny Wagner. Time July 12, 1968

These experts apparently flunked physics.
posted by caddis at 6:55 AM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Very well told and researched story, but I agree that the part with the tigers was cringeworthy. It's one of the darlings that you would expect a good editor to kill.
posted by NekulturnY at 7:11 AM on September 15, 2009

Very well told and researched story, but I agree that the part with the tigers was cringeworthy. It's one of the darlings that you would expect a good editor to kill.

Spot on, NekulturnY. Definitely a little darling too far.

I love this post (and the comments).

There will always be a piece of my heart that belongs to Fosbury.
I was a leggy but knock kneed & horribly short-sighted kid in the 1970s who yearned NOT to be picked last for team sports (just once would have been nice) but somehow, incredibly, I was a natural Fosbury flopper.

I can still summon a heady memory of intense physical joy - it was almost as if a giant unseen hand rotated me backwards & easily clear over the bar in the final second of the run-up - even though I was trying to do the traditional western roll.

(After the joy came the blurry humiliation of scrabbling around for my stupid glasses.)

It was the only time in my life I ever fleetingly excelled at a sport - our school coach always calling me to demonstrate the perfect Fosbury technique. (It was odd - but wonderful - how I never understood how I always turned backwards but just did it - when I'd see more athletic types coming to an angry tangled halt.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:25 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember seeing him on Saturday afternoon television (in glorious black and white) and the reaction the announcers always had to his unorthodox style. I think they wanted this to be all a joke but Fosbury's success put the kibosh on that. Triumph of the Nerds indeed.

Now everyone does it and you don't hear his name mentioned quite so often.
posted by tommasz at 8:46 AM on September 15, 2009

Having grown up in the post-Fosbury era, I was unaware of the specifics of the earlier techniques and the ability of jumpers to land on their feet. I love the Fosbury story, but watching the YouTube videos of scissor-jumpers jumping over a 5 1/2 foot bar and landing upright is impressive.
posted by katemonster at 10:53 AM on September 15, 2009

In my opinion, the best sports writing completely avoids this or, as in a certain vein of Australian sports reporting I am best familiar with, dryly parodies the tendency.

"The precision-jackhammer attack of the Miami Dolphins stomped the balls off the Minnesota Vikings today by stomping and hammering with one precise jack-thrust after another up the middle, mixed with pinpoint-precision passes into the flat and numerous hammer-jack stops around both ends..." --HST
posted by rusty at 1:08 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some laugh, some cringe. Isn't that great?
posted by stargell at 7:13 PM on September 15, 2009

« Older Hopefully they won't screw it up.   |   Religious Studies 101: A Handful of Thorns Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments