London 2012 - Where are they now? Dick Fosbury
How did Dick Fosbury come up with the 'Fosbury Flop' that saw him win Olympic high jump gold in 1968 - and what's he been up to since?
A TRUE SPORTING INNOVATOR
"OK, that's it. I'm not sure exactly what you're doing, but it's working for you. So stick with it, I guess."
Oregon State high jump coach Berny Wagner had given up. Like Dick Fosbury's previous coaches he had tried, and failed, to teach the lanky kid from Medford in Oregon the near-enough universally used 'straddle technique' - the most popular variant of which was known as the 'western roll' - to try and improve his pupil's solid, but unspectacular, jumps.
The year was 1967 and Fosbury had just broken his university's high jump record with a leap of 2.10 metres in winning an event in Fresno, California – the jump was a full 80cm better than anything Fosbury had produced the previous season.
When in high school, Fosbury enjoyed a similar leap in productivity, and on both occasions it came only after he had abandoned the high jump style du jour of going over the high jump bar face down before lifting your legs individually over the bar.
In his early days of competing, Fosbury used the old fashioned scissors jump which involved landing feet first, but then he started to sprint diagonally towards the bar before curling and leaping backwards. At first he came to the bar barely at a 45-degree angle; by the time he had perfected his technique it was closer to 90.
Results gained using his new technique helped earn him a scholarship to Oregon State – it also helped gain him a semblance of notoriety.
"The World's Laziest High Jumper", read the caption of one widely circulated picture of Fosbury, while later in his career a reporter for the LA Times would say: "Fosbury goes over the bar like a guy being pushed out of a 30-story window."
However, it was a headline in his local newspaper after one of his meets that christened one of the most unique sporting innovations of the 20th century.
"FOSBURY FLOPS OVER THE BAR" read a headline in the Medford Mail-Tribune in a piece that said Fosbury "looked like nothing more than a fish flopping into a boat".
The Fosbury Flop was born.
The problem was that his Oregon State coach Wagner had never actually seen Fosbury jump. He gave the modest scholarship to Fosbury on the back of the teenager's results alone.
Soon after completing his final year in school, Fosbury won a National Junior Championship, but Wagner still had no problem getting him to sign a letter of intent with his college.
The competition for his signature was pretty much non-existent. Coaches like to coach, but nobody knew what to do with a kid who barely knew what he was doing himself.
"Everybody just thought: it's good to look at, it's pretty funny and everything, but he'll never do anything," Fosbury would later recall.
At Oregon State, Wagner again tried to get Fosbury to use the straddle technique, but the results did not follow; exasperated with his form, Fosbury went back to his one-of-a-kind flop - and an incredible improvement followed.
His 2.10m jump in Fresno was only the beginning: in 1968 he won the National College Championship and later that year he earned a spot on the American Olympic team for the Games in Mexico City.
He would go on to win the gold in an Olympic and American record jump of 2.24m, and with it the hearts of a capacity crowd of 80,000 who were simply gripped by the performance of the sporting rebel.
The final stages of the high jump saw Fosbury battling with countryman Ed Caruthers for the top spot on the podium. When crunch time came it coincided with the marathon runners entering the Olympic stadium.
The grand arrival of the 26-milers is usually one of the highlights of the Games, but the marathon runners would later talk about their confusion upon entering the Estadio Olímpico Universitario at the seemingly random cheering from the stands.
The crowd were distracted by the unlikeliest of gold medal winners who was, quite literally, producing something they had never seen before.
It is also worth noting that if Fosbury had been born 10 years earlier, it is unlikely he would have ever dreamed of trying out his now nearly exclusively-used technique.
It was only in the 1960s that foam and rubber mats were brought into the sport. Sawdust, sand or wood chip surfaces had previously been used for landings, and someone using the Fosbury Flop would have risked breaking their neck on landing every time they attempted a jump.
After winning Olympic gold, Fosbury went from a curious oddity into a worldwide sporting celebrity. The big question on everyone's lips was: how?
How did this middling high school jumper turn himself into the best in the world within the space of four years? How did this sporting alchemist independently come up with a golden technique that, in time, would be used by 34 of the last 36 Olympic high jump medallists?
"It is important to realise that it evolved gradually and naturally, like common law or the mammal," read a Sports Illustrated feature on Fosbury that tried to answer that question just one year after his victory in Mexico.
The piece went on to quote the man himself.
"You'll read that I'm a gymnast. You'll read that I'm a physicist and that I sat down one day and figured out a better way to jump. You'll read that I ran up and tripped one day and fell backward over the bar," he told reporter Roy Blount Jr, before nodding his head to the contrary.
"But I didn't change my style... It changed inside me."
WHERE IS HE NOW?
In March of 2008 Fosbury woke up one day in agony. Intense pain was shooting through both of his legs. His legs were not the problem though – it was his back. A large tumour, 4cm long, was growing inside and fusing two vertebrae – he had cancer.
A month later he was diagnosed with stage one lymphoma. Doctors operated straight away and decided not to attempt to remove the growth fully due to the risk of paralysis. Instead they put him on a chemotherapy regime.
Fosbury did not shy away from the battle of tackling cancer; instead he decided to write about his experience in a blog during the Beijing Olympics.
Expressing his extreme confidence that he was beating the illness, in January 2009 he was to receive the news he suspected – he was in remission.
"It was intuitive," Fosbury said. "That is probably very naive on my part, because I didn't know I had the tumour when it was growing. But I just felt very good."
Today Fosbury is 64 and in good health.
Fosbury's sporting career after returning from the Olympics was limited. He had his 15 minutes of fame: he enjoyed a ticker tape parade in his hometown where, because there was no building on the main street over two stories high, kids had to run beside his car throwing the tape as he moved through the streets.
He also appeared on the most popular US television programme at the time – The Tonight Show – teaching Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby how to do the flop and getting to meet some of the biggest celebrities of the day: Dustin Hoffman, Andy Warhol and Janis Joplin.
All this came while he was still in university - and he admitted to the Oregonian newspaper in 1998 that he "had a horrible time dealing with all the attention".
"It was too much. I was a small-town kid who did something way beyond what I had ever expected to do," he said.
"I liked the attention, but I wanted it to be over at a point. It didn't work that way. I did all those exciting things, met all the movie stars, then you had to go back to college at Oregon State."
He again won the National College (NCAA) championship in 1969, but the same competitive itch he had before was gone.
Even at the height of his career, Fosbury admitted that he rarely jumped in practice; he just didn't see the point as you couldn't replicate the pressure and atmosphere that came with doing it when a big title was on the line.
He did try to qualify for the 1972 Olympics, but admitted that he was not in "competitive shape" and failed to make it to Munich.
Instead he graduated from Oregon State the same year as the Games with a degree in civil engineering. In 1977 he moved to Ketchum, Idaho where he co-founded a Civil Engineering company called Galena Engineering. He still lives in Idaho and works for the company to this day.
That is not to say that he hasn't remained incredibly involved in sports since retiring from the high jump at the age of just 25.
From 2008 to 2011 he was president of the World Olympians Association, a group for former Olympian athletes who promote Olympic ideals around the world – and he remains a member of the group's executive committee.
Fosbury is also a member of the 'Champions for Peace' club - a group of 54 famous elite athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport run by a Monaco-based international organisation called Peace and Sport.
His passion for his beloved high jump has not diminished either, and he regularly runs summer camps to help others master his gold-medal winning flop.
He stays active through rollerblading, mountain biking, hiking, Alpine skiing and snowboarding... Fosbury has tried it all.
However, he will always be remembered for 'The Fosbury Flop'.
"'(The Flop) brought me gifts - not necessarily monetarily... but I have met presidents and kings, seen the world, shared my life with wonderful people. It opened doors and allowed people to perceive me in a positive light. I have learned to respect that and hold myself to a certain standard because of it," he told the Oregonian.
"I'm not possessive about it. I was blessed to be the first. I am totally convinced somebody was going to discover the technique. It just felt natural to me; I didn't know others would find it natural.
"It is great the event has continued to advance, probably faster than it would have if we were all still straddling. I'm very happy to have given something to the sport."