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Fosbury featured speaker at SOSC banquet

Few embody the spirit of sport and innovation like Dick Fosbury.

For that reason, the man who reshaped the track and field landscape as a Medford High student in the 1960s is ideal to serve as the keynote speaker at the Southern Oregon Sports Commission’s annual awards banquet in February.

Fosbury, who through necessity and design came up with the revolutionary high jump method of sailing over the bar backwards — the “Fosbury Flop” — will return to Medford on Feb. 9 for the third annual event.

At the banquet, the SOSC’s male and female athletes of the year will be revealed, a top sports advocate will be honored and the Mail Tribune’s top 10 stories of 2016 will be recognized.

The banquet is at 5 p.m. at the Santo Community Center, 701 N. Columbus Ave. Tickets are $30, or four for $100, and can be purchased online at southernoregonsports.com or by calling 541-608-8517.

Proceeds go to the SOSC’s efforts to enhance sports tourism and promote sporting events in the Rogue Valley.

The SOSC, part of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, has existed for more than two years and was in the works a couple years before that. The idea of sports as a tourist mechanism was a fresh idea to the area and has gained traction.

Certainly, creative thinking is something to which Fosbury can relate.

The 1965 Medford graduate came up with the Flop during his sophomore year. He continued to perfect it, resulting in two national championships at Oregon State University and, his crowning achievement, the 1968 Olympic gold medal in Mexico City. There, he set Olympic and American records by clearing 7 feet, 4 ¼ inches.

Fosbury, 69, and a retired civil engineer, has lived in Ketchum, Idaho, since 1977. He’s president of Galena Engineering, which he founded, and remains a popular professional speaker around the world.

In October, he was elected president of the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association.

Fosbury returns to the Rogue Valley from time to time. His father lives in Grants Pass, and the Olympic champion attended his 50th high school reunion last year.

“I’m really excited to come over for the SOSC,” he said.

Fosbury tailors his message to his audience, but there are common themes.

“One of the things I’ve learned from my experience in sport is about the benefit of innovation,” he said, “whether it’s in sport playing games or in the business world, and some of the methods to gain success and become a high-achieving person and reach your dreams.”

Fosbury is no stranger to the task of the SOSC, having attended recent National Association of Sports Commission symposiums. Sports commissions are “natural partners” with the Olympic association he oversees and the activities of those members.

Living in a ski resort area for nearly 40 years, he understands the importance of tourism to the economy.

Fosbury sees similarities in the Rogue Valley, where organized sports have a rich tradition, but also where natural resources present much allure for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.

“I’m really excited to realize the SOSC has been active and is promoting this for Southern Oregon,” he said. “I know that it’s a natural, having grown up and spent my teenage years there. There are so many fantastic resources and opportunities. It’s wonderful to invite tourists and visiting teams to come and get a little taste and flavor of the Rogue Valley.”

Angela Wood, director of sales and sports development for Travel Medford, said the SOSC is thrilled to have Fosbury as its guest speaker.

“He’s not only a local athlete, but he’s world famous for what he did to change the face of track and field,” she said.

That he’s familiar with the role of the sports commission is a bonus.

“He knows what it’s about. He knows the importance of sports tourism,” said Wood. “I think Dick will be a really great draw for us and bring more awareness to what we’re doing.”

Fosbury has long been connected to Oregon sports, and that bond was accentuated this year.

He attended the World Indoor Championships in Portland in March, marveling when prep high jumper Vashti Cunningham won the gold; was in Rio for the Summer Olympics, enjoying victories by Oregonians Ryan Crouser in the shot put and Ashton Eaton in the decathlon; and was pleased when Oregon associate athletic director Vin Lananna was recently named president of USA Track and Field.

“It’s just terrific to see the influence and great tradition that Oregon has had,” said Fosbury.

His year got better when he was elected president of the USOAP. He described it as a social organization, supported by the U.S. Olympic Committee, for all athletes who have competed in the Olympic and Paralympic games.

There are about 30 in the Sun Valley area of Idaho, he said, but Fosbury is one of the few Summer Olympians in the winter wonderland.

He takes delight in learning about them and what they do to stay active and healthy.

A cancer survivor, that’s of particular importance to Fosbury.

He was diagnosed with Stage 1 lymphoma in 2008. Early detection and a healthy lifestyle contributed to him beating it.

“I’ve been healthy,” said Fosbury, “so as long as I’ve got this time, I want to spend it to help promote physical fitness and health to other people.”

And to do so at his “old home” in a couple months, he said, will be a special opportunity.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com