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Since You Asked: Olympian Fosbury wasn't a flop

In the wake of the Summer Olympics, my husband and I were talking about the high-jump and the "Fosbury flop" that put Medford on the world map. Would you please remind us of who that Medford athlete is and tell us of his accomplishments?

— Alice M., Applegate

While a sophomore at Medford High School, gangly Dick Fosbury experimented with a new style of high-jumping at a 1963 track meet in Grants Pass. Eschewing the event's standard scissors-kick and straddle techniques, Fosbury turned his shoulders slightly backward and lifted his hips to clear a personal-best height of 5 feet 10 inches.

Although his technique — which came to be called "the flop" — was ridiculed and even criticized as unsafe, Fosbury ultimately perfected a head-first leap by approaching the bar in a semicircle, pushing off his left foot and landing on his back. The revolutionary "Fosbury flop" would become the worldwide standard for high-jumping.

Fosbury attended Oregon State University on a full-ride athletic scholarship. There, he captured three Pacific-8 championships and two NCAA titles before stunning the world at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Fosbury's gold-medal jump of 7 feet 41/4 inches was an American and Olympic record, and his method became widely emulated. Dwight Stones won a bronze medal using the flop at the next Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. At the 1976 games, all three medalists were floppers; by the 1980s, the straddle-style of jumping was virtually extinct.

After earning an engineering degree in 1972 at OSU, Fosbury joined a professional track circuit — the now-defunct International Track Association — for one year. Fosbury moved to Ketchum, Idaho, in 1976 and founded an engineering firm.

Fosbury was elected in 1981 to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. The term "Fosbury flop" was chosen as 1968's catch-phrase for a list of 20th-century unusual words and phrases produced by the publishers of Collins dictionaries.

Fosbury has stayed involved in track, serving as an ambassador to the sport. He puts on clinics and does some public speaking and fundraising for Special Olympics.