Woo, day 10! We're one third of the way through Blogtober! I wanted to pick someone momentous to celebrate the occasion, and I don't think there's anyone much more momentous than this guy.
Dick won the 1968 NCAA Championship in the high jump, then won that year's Olympic trials, and then won the gold medal at the Olympics, setting American and Olympic records in the process. He won the NCAA Championship again in 1969, and then turned pro in 1972.
BUT. But. More importantly. He kind of invented this little thing that's now called the Fosbury Flop.
Basically, Dick was a very average athlete, even in the high jump because he had so much trouble with the technique. Back in the day, jumpers used to go over the bar facing down and lifting their legs individually over it in what was called the straddle method. Before that, jumpers used the upright scissors method, which involved running straight at the bar facing forwards and lifting their legs over it one at a time during the jump. Because he was failing to make qualifying heights with the straddle method when he was in high school, he tried the upright scissors method, which wasn't working out much better.
High jump rules state only that jumpers must be on one foot when they take off; there's nothing dictating position in the air. Any way you can get over the bar is A-OK. So Dick started tweaking his technique to get more height out of it and feel more comfortable in the air. He began lifting his hips, which pushed his shoulders down, kicking his legs up at the end of his jumps, and going over the bar backwards, facing up and completely horizontal.
...Gee, sounds kind of like the way high jumpers go over the bar nowadays, doesn't it?
People mocked the hell out of him at first -- my personal fave is the guy who said his technique looked like an "airborne seizure," or the photo caption that dubbed him the "World's Laziest High Jumper" -- but they shut up pretty quick. A gold medal does tend to have that effect.
There's a story about Dick called The Revolutionary that was published in Sports Illustrated a few years ago (I got a ton of info for this post from it and it's an absolutely AMAZING read, so go check it out when you're done here!) that explains that it basically comes down to this. In sports, the most effective way to accomplish the given task has pretty much been figured out, especially in the older sports like the track and field events (high jump included). People run facing forwards instead of backwards because, well, duh, you go faster! Innovations in technique have kind of plateaued. But here came this gawky dude who couldn't high jump the right way, decided to do his own thing out of sheer desperation, and ended up completely revolutionizing the sport. Every single elite high jumper uses the Fosbury Flop now. Every. Single. One. This kind of thing doesn't happen. Except... it did.
And know what I found out (or, uh, was reminded of) on his Wikipedia? That he co-founded World Fit with Gary Hall Sr., who I met and interviewed three years ago. Mind = BLOWN!