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Fosbury: 'I wanted to unload'

Dick Fosbury has told one story, by his estimate, 100,000 times.

That is the recounting of how he developed the “Fosbury Flop” high jump style that has been used the world over for decades.

It led him to collegiate, national and international fame, culminating in an Olympic gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games.

As the 50th anniversary of that historical achievement on Oct. 20 drew close, Fosbury — who was raised in Medford and graduated from Medford High in 1965 — has been able to tell another story.

A book chronicling his life was released last month. “The Wizard of Foz,” written by Bob Welch, goes deeper than any other piece on one of the most innovative athletes in sports history.

Fosbury and Welch will be in Medford from 7 to 9 p.m. for a presentation and book signing Wednesday at Rogue Regency Inn and Suites. Earlier in the day, Fosbury will speak at a meeting of the Medford Rogue Rotary.

The book tells of an adolescence scarred by the tragic death of Fosbury’s brother and the dissolution of his parents’ marriage soon after. It details other obstacles that confronted a young man changing not only his world but, in one respect, the world, through unconventional means.

Fosbury, who lives in Bellevue, Idaho, welcomed the opportunity to tell more.

“I wanted to unload,” he says, “and talk about the background. Of course, every journalist has been curious about, ‘How on earth did you start that technique and why? Did your coach show you or did you do it?’ And I told that story 100,000 times. But giving the background of growing up in Medford and the tragedy in our family with my brother being killed That was difficult, but I felt it was really important to tell that.”

Fosbury was 14 when he and his brother, 10-year-old Greg, were on a bike ride. They were on Crater Lake Avenue at dusk on a Saturday, returning to their home on Roberts Road. Greg trailed behind when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver.

His parents, their lives shattered, divorced a year later.

“We got into some very personal things,” Fosbury says of he and Welch.

Fosbury has returned to the Rogue Valley from time to time and visited the old neighborhood.

“It’s very emotional, it’s very difficult,” he says. “I just had a lot of bad experiences there that I had to survive, that I had to recover from.”

The 50th anniversary celebration essentially began with work on the book, says Fosbury. He’s pleased with how it turned out.

“I’m really proud of it,” he says. “I think it’s (Welch’s) finest writing. He was really inspired and worked and worked and worked on it. The reception has been fantastic. Everyone loves it. It’s really a good story.”

Although his athletic prowess reached its zenith a half-century ago, Fosbury is seldom far from the limelight.

“It’s funny,” he says. “I kind of live on this four-year cycle, the Olympiad, and every time there’s a Summer Games, I get different requests and there are different interviews with journalists from all over the world.”

The attention has intensified of late.

Last week, he was part of a star-studded American delegation of athletes from the 1968 Games that visited Mexico City at the invitation of Felipe Munoz, president of the Mexican Olympic Committee. Among the entourage were Bob Beamon, Mark Spitz, Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

This week, in addition to his Medford stop, Fosbury will speak at TrackTown USA in Eugene on Tuesday, and on Friday, he’ll take part in the unveiling of a sculpture of him at Oregon State.

On Saturday, the actual anniversary of his gold-medal jump, he’ll be recognized at the Beavers’ home football game against California.

The anniversary comes at a time when he’s also running for county commissioner.

“I’ve got these reunions that really are once in a lifetime events, and then I’ll finish up the campaign,” says Fosbury. “After November, I’ll be celebrating, of course, and continuing to do my homework on what the job requires.”

Fosbury has seen only a model of the bronze sculpture done by Eugene artist Ellen Tykeson. It depicts him soaring over the bar at his Olympic-winning height.

“She did a fabulous job and I’m really excited about that,” says Fosbury. “And the concept is really unique. She’s got me going over the bar that will be set at 7-4 1/4, so it’s up in the sky. It’s really going to be dramatic.”

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

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