Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Dick Fosbury-Now ‘The Wizard of Foz’
Dick Fosbury, who will soon be spending a lot of time at the Blaine County Courthouse as the county’s new commissioner, now stands 6-foot-4. PHOTO: Karen Bossick
Saturday, December 1, 2018


He was 6-foot-2, a Baby Boomer raised on Wonder Bread. He wore size 12 shoes and greased his hair like his fellow teenagers at Medford High School.

And Dick Fosbury was, perhaps, the worst prep high jumper in the state of Oregon.

He couldn’t even clear the opening height of 5 feet at his first high school meet, even though his father had built him a high jump with a sawdust pit in the back of his home.

Dick Fosbury’s unique style of jumping was called the Fosbury Flop because one sports writer wrote it looked as if he were flopping. PHOTO: Public Domain

But Fosbury kept at it, experimenting with the scissors kick and adding his own little twists. And then at the 1968 Summer Olympics, he started running in the thin air of 7,350-foot Mexico City, and sailed back first over the bar, ignoring coaches who told him it was foolhardy, fans who thought it laughable and doctors who thought it dangerous.

He not only won a Gold Medal with his offbeat style but he revolutionized the sport with his Fosbury Flop, changing the way other high jumpers jump.

Now, Dick Fosbury’s story is being told in “The Wizard of Foz: Dick Fosbury’s One-Man High-Jump Revolution,” written by Eugene Register-Guard sportswriter Bob Welch, who covered Fosbury as he competed at Oregon State.

The book is available at www.dickfosbury.com, on Kindle,   Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.

It’s billed as a story of loss, revival and unbending human spirit—a story of a young man who refused to listen to those who laughed at him, doubted him or tried to make him something he was not.

“I had done pretty well at the scissors-kick—it was easy for a tall kid,” recounted Fosbury, who lives on  a little farm near Bellevue. “But my high school coach said I needed to change because it was too limiting. He taught me the newer style—the straddle, or belly roll--and I was awful. I went from being a competitor to a loser.”

Frustrated and depressed, Fosbury asked if he could revisit the scissors-kick after six months of the straddle. Then he began experimenting.

“I knew I had to lift my hip higher to get my butt over the bar. I leaned back and made it. They raised the bar, I leaned back further, and it worked again. Ended up jumping six inches higher, laying flat on back as crossed over the bar. I started leading with my shoulder, going over at an angle and, by my senior year I was turning my back to the bar and arching over.

“During my junior year at college, I made the Olympic team and I went on to show the entire world a different way. I won so, of course, every kid wanted to copy me.”

Having made the team with a jump of 7-foot-1, Fosbury set an Olympic record, clearing the bar at 7-foot-4 and a quarter inch.

“It was my best day ever. It changed my life in two ways: It taught me that following a program can help you reach your potential and become No. 1 in the world. And it gave me self-confidence that I could achieve more than I had expected—or others had expected.”

While the book describes Fosbury’s journey in charting a personal course that would set him apart from others, it also takes readers through some of the other challenges that shaped his life.

He grew up in Medford where his father was a salesman and his mother, a bookkeeper.  It was a tight-knit family that played Monopoly and Yahtzee on Friday nights, and his father and mother led a local square dance club.

Fosbury’s mother and father were away square dancing one night when Fosbury and his brother were bicycling near their house. In a blink of an eye a drunk driver plowed into both of them, killing his brother instantly.

It’s something Fosbury has never gotten over. But he’s also drawn strength from the tragedy, just as he did overcoming the cancer that he was diagnosed with 10 years ago.

 “I just know I have an angel,” he said. “I survived the bicycle accident, and I survived cancer. And I really appreciate things like the separated bike path through our valley that keeps bicyclists safe and off the highway out of the path of drunk drivers.”

Being a survivor is one of the reasons Fosbury aspired to be Blaine County Commissioner—an office he won in the November election. And it’s why he volunteers with the kids on the track team at Wood River High School. One of those youngsters--Stella Barsotti--was district girls’ high jump champion two straight years and was second in state two straight years.

It’s also why he serves on several Olympic committees, including the alumni association, where he  encourages fellow alumni to inspire youth in their communities via Olympic Day and other activities. He also served as vice president of the U.S. Olympians Association for 12 years and president of the World Olympians Association for four years.

“Life is a gift and we need to use what God gives us,” he said.


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