NOTE: The following story ran as part of the "Spartan Spirit" column in the Thursday, Feb. 1, 1968, edition of the Corvallis Gazette-Times.
Indoor track and field fans at such gathering places as Seattle, New York and Louisville this month will have an opportunity to see a first, one-and-only — a high jumper who can clear seven feet upside down.
Dick Fosbury, rangy 20-year-old Oregon State junior, looks like most high-jumpers approaching the bar.
But at takeoff point he does a quick about-face. From then on he doesn't see the bar as he looks directly away from it. Despite this seeming change of direction he gets a terrific takeoff thrust and arches straight over the bar, just skimming it with the back of his head, his shoulder blades, the seat of his pants and finally his heels.
"It's sort of a backwards or upside-down dive," Fosbury explained. "I go head first and with my chest as parallel with the bar as I can get it, except that I'm looking up."
His teammates affectionately refer to it as the "Fosbury Flop."
Last weekend Fosbury became the first Oregon State high-jumper to clear the seven-foot mark as he easily won the event at the Athens Indoor Invitational meet in Oakland, California. All of the other high-jumpers active today who have attained the magic mark employ variations of the belly or straddle roll. The unorthodox Fosbury is the only member of his style in major competition.
Fosbury, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound native of Medford, one of Oregon's prep track hotbeds, established himself as another of the country's promising high-jumpers last spring when, as a sophomore, he won the Pacific Athletic Conference championship with a lead of 6-9. Earlier in the spring, he topped 6-10 several times and set a school record of 6-10¾.
However, there were many of the track and field fraternity who insisted that his spectacular style gave him a "ceiling" that limited his potential. Of course, they had been warning him that there was a "ceiling" a few inches higher when he began it all with an upside-down leap of 5-6 as a sophomore at Medford High School. Only a couple of weeks ago some of the "experts" said it was too bad he would never reach seven feet.
Fosbury has high hopes of 7-2 in the near future and maybe 7-4 when some of his weightlifting exercises show results.
Berny Wagner, the OSU varsity track coach, scoffs at talk of Fosbury having any more of a ceiling than any conventional jumper.
"He does a great many things right and very well when it comes to high-jumping," Wagner maintains. "One of the main things about high-jumping is that the center of gravity has to be over the point as you leave the ground. There's nothing more to propel you after you leave the ground. Dick does this very well. Also, he has the important size and is a great competitor.
"Of course, when he first came, he very much wanted to change to a roll and, naturally, we wanted to see him change. That first spring he would practice all week on the roll. Got up all the way to 5-10. He was having an awful time but wanted to learn it. Then on weekends, just so he could have some fun, he would jump his way in meets. He set a freshman school record of 6-6¼. We decided to abandon the roll."
Wagner, an engineering student at Cal Tech before he turned to education and track at Stanford, said it's all in the physics of the event. To the traditionalist, his turn at the takeoff point would appear wasteful, but Wagner pointed out that gymnasts use such a turn very effectively. The OSU staff is studying hundreds of films of Fosbury, a civil engineering technology major, and have other jumpers trying the technique, but none have been successful.
Both Fosbury and Wagner warned against trying anyplace but in a foam-rubber-filled pit. Dick jammed three vertebrae in sawdust pits while in high school and almost had to give up jumping.
Fosbury started all in high school after failing to come from the old-fashioned "scissors" style he had used in junior high to the roll. Back with the "scissors" and in a meet with rival Grants Pass, he felt he could add a few inches by leaning into it a little more. He went all the way to 5-10 and that was just a start.
Wagner pointed out that Fosbury had jumped for height only a few times this winter and was just beginning to approach full strength.
For one thing, he lost six weeks of training in the fall because of injury.
He tried a conventional hurdle skip over a chair in his room. The result of the fall was a broken hand. He probably will try that one upside-down next time.