In the world of high jumping, history is divided by Dick Fosbury. There was every type of jumping prior to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and everything after Fosbury revolutionized the sport with his now-iconic "Fosbury Flop," the back-first style of clearing the high bar which now dominates the event.
Fosbury, an Oregon native, now makes his home in Ketchum, where he has lived since 1977 when he opened his own civil engineering firm. Nearly a half-century since his revolutionary leap over the high bar won him the Olympic gold medal and catapulted him to fame, Fosbury continues to work with the Olympians of tomorrow. He spoke to Boise Weekly, before leaving to help run a track and field camp for middle- and high-school students in Maine.
We talked about his iconic Olympic moment, giving back to kids and his unsuccessful 2014 run for the Idaho Legislature.
It's fair to say you're a member of one the planet's most exclusive clubs: gold medalists.
We're all human beings. Some athletes came home from the Olympics and walked away from their sport, but I've developed a pretty good network of athletes who continue to give back and love working with kids.
I'm old enough to remember watching you live on television at the 1968 Mexico summer games. It's not an exaggeration to say the Fosbury Flop caused a global sensation. How did it come about?
I was a sophomore in high school in 1963. I was at a track meet in Grants Pass, Ore., and our high-jumpers were all using the classic technique—the belly roll—and I was terrible. I tried going back to the old scissor-kick, which we all learn in grade school, and my coach said, "You're not going to be able to compete. You have to change." I was desperate. As they raised the bar, I was facing a height I had never cleared before. Instinctively, I tried raising my hips to get my rear end over the bar, and then I leaned back. Next time, I leaned back some more and then some more the next time. I tied for fourth place that day, but I was on my way.
Can I assume your life changed in a heartbeat after you won the gold in Mexico City?
I was prepared for competition, not for what happens when you win. At that time in history, it was pretty shocking. The challenge for me was that I was going back to Oregon State University as a student. I was 21. I resented some people putting me on a pedestal. They looked at me as some kind of hero. I understand that today, but living through it was very difficult. Yes, you get the medal, but you have to come down from the podium.
Let's talk politics. Are you a Hillary Clinton-Democrat or a Bernie Sanders-Democrat?
My wife is from Vermont, so we love Bernie. But we know that Hillary will succeed.
What might have you done differently in your 2014 race for the Idaho House? [Fosbury lost to Republican Rep. Steve Miller in the District 26A House race].
I came close. I lost by 126 votes. The one thing that really hurt me was that the Twin Falls Times-News recommended my opponent after saying that my candidacy was because I didn't have anything better to do. I shook it off and didn't respond. I should have definitely responded, because a conservative political action group came in and supported my opponent with a lot of money. It got him elected. I'm done with Idaho politics.
Why wouldn't you want to give it another try? You came pretty close.
My real ambition is to run for president of the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association. It's something I know and would love to do. I want to give that my best shot.
In the meantime, are you going to the Rio Summer Games?
Yes, I'll be there to represent Adidas and some other companies.
Can you appreciate how difficult it has been for some athletes to opt not to go to Rio due to the Zika virus or other health concerns?
Absolutely. I understand it when some athletes decided not to go, but I also know that the U.S. Olympic Committee is making every effort to ensure the safety of our athletes. All that said, these are the fittest people on the planet.