Dick Fosbury, champion high jumper who invented the Fosbury Flop, dies at 76

Oregon student won gold at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and revolutionised his event with back-first technique

The death has been announced of Dick Fosbury (76), the American high jumper who revolutionised the event with his Fosbury Flop technique that helped win him the Olympic gold medal in Mexico in 1968.

A statement issued by his former agent Ray Schulte on Monday evening said: “It is with a very heavy heart I have to release the news that long time friend and client Dick Fosbury passed away peacefully in his sleep early Sunday morning after a short bout with a recurrence of lymphoma.

“The track and field legend is survived by his wife Robin Tomasi, son Erich Fosbury, and stepdaughters Stephanie Thomas-Phipps of Hailey, Idaho, and Kristin Thompson. Dick will be greatly missed by friends and fans from around the world. A true legend, and friend of all.”

Born in Portland, Oregon, Fosbury started experimenting with a new high-jumping technique at age 16, while attending Medford High School. Then on Sunday October 20th, 1968, he changed the event forever.


In the first 72 years of the Olympics, jumpers ran forwards over the bar; in 1968, Fosbury jumped backwards, flopping over the bar.

Then a 21-year-old Oregon State University student, he used his new and innovative technique of jumping (a back-layout style he had dubbed the Fosbury Flop in a newspaper interview) to clinch the gold medal with a clearance on his third and final attempt at an Olympic and US record of 2.24m.

In an article to mark the 50th anniversary of his famous win in Mexico, he told World Athletics: “I thought that after I won the gold, one or two jumpers would start using it, but I never really contemplated that it would become the universal technique. Yet, it only took a generation.

“The last straddle jumper at the Olympics was in Seoul (in 1988). It took a little time for European coaches to start teaching it as they had only seen still photos and couldn’t understand running around a curve, but it was still a surprise to me what happened.”

Indeed the Fosbury Flop fast became the predominant high jump technique. By the next Olympics in 1972, 28 of the 40 competitors were using his style.

US high jump coach John Tansley said at the time: “Few athletes in history have done their thing as uniquely as Dick Fosbury. He literally turned his event upside down.”

Fosbury never jumped higher than he jumped in Mexico City, his legendary status already secure.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics