Those born in 1969 maintain that that was the best year to be born, a year of ingenuity, of man’s arrival on the moon, of the faith that the atom and progress would put an end to all of humanity’s problems. , but those who at that time already had the use of reason, attended high school or university, will argue with them and say that there was no year like 1968 that moved humanity more, that made more impact. May 1968, Berkeley, the hippie movement, the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Prague Spring, pop, the prodigious decade and, after the massacre at the Zócalo, in Mexico City itself, in October, the Olympics they symbolized all of that and more. The Games of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and their black glove, on the podium, the black power, conscious young man, Bob Beamon jumping 8.90 m, and Dick Fosbury, a boy from Portland (Oregon), only 21 years old, jumping high backwards. It was the great revolution in athletics, the birth of Fosbury Failure, and its founder, the revolutionary father, died yesterday, at his home in Ketchum (Idaho), “peacefully in his sleep”, as announced by his agent, victim of a relapse of lymphoma diagnosed in 2008. He was a mature man with white hair, road engineer established on a farm, in the great prairies of the West, adept at snowboarding in the winter and mountain biking in the summer, committed to the underprivileged, fighter against racism and even a defeated candidate for the Democratic Party in Congress. On March 6 he turned 76 years old.
“All the kids who practiced athletics in San Sebastián, as soon as we saw him, we went to Anoeta to jump on the back”, says Ramón Cid, triple jumper and coach; “and it was hilarious.” And so all over the world. The debate over the superiority of one style or another did not last long. Skate purists were able to enjoy a few more years thanks to the great Yatchenko, who raised the record to 2.35 meters. With Mexico 68 over, Fosbury returned to the faculty. The dean gave him a choice: athletics or career. He hung up his shoes and became an engineer.
Cuban Javier Sotomayor, the man who jumped the highest, 2.45 meters, thanks to Fosbury Failure, the only track and field technique known by the name of its inventor, defines him as a “revolutionary”. “Thanks to him, some jumpers, myself included, had excellent results in the 2.40 meters”, says the athlete from Matanzas. “Taking into account that with the previous style, the ventral roll, it would be very difficult to reach this height, I must say that one of those grateful for its great innovation is me. I join in the pain of all your family and all your friends, and all your followers, including myself. Rest in peace”.
The mere mention of the surname produces a domino effect, a chain. Its three syllables evoke an image. The image – a horizontal athlete, navy blue tank top, white shorts, a adidas white on one foot, black on the other, frozen on his back, arms limp at his sides, head slightly twisted, on a ribbon – it stirs the memory of a moment, on October 20, 1968, in a stadium, Olympic in Mexico City.
Fosbury arrived at his revolutionary style because of one flaw: his inability to grasp the complex tummy roll. He only knew how to jump with a centipede, and he didn’t stop until he jumped back. He started practicing years before Mexico ’68. He’d get to the bar and turn around, then do a back somersault and go over it. The move allowed him to gain height by keeping his center of gravity below the bar, which required less jumping power. Thus, after 12 jumps, he defeated Gavrilov and Carruthers in the Olympic final, broke the Olympic record with 2.24 meters and touched 2.29, with which he would have beaten the world championship of the unfortunate Soviet Valery Brumel, the maximum species of perfection that he had a broken leg in a motorcycle accident. Brumel saved his record, but the next day his style began to die.
For Luis María Garriga, to say Fosbury is to say all that and also something else. For Garriga, who in his youth was Spain’s best jumper – he had the national record of 2.12 meters -, Fosbury is also a sound, a guttural noise and a scream. “Of course, back then it wasn’t like it is now, that anything that happens anywhere arrives immediately on television, by satellite, by internet, to the four corners”, says Garriga, one of the 13 participants in the Olympic final in Mexico, one of the 12 athletes amazed by Fosbury; “But, of course, we had heard about Fosbury, about his way of jumping. We even had a movie that we ran hundreds of times in the moviola to analyze it. So I wasn’t too surprised by Fosbury either. What I remember most vividly is the way he concentrated. Fosbury went to the mark on the floor, stood there for over two minutes, and started moving his hands and making noises in his throat. And it seemed that he forgot about the world. So much so that among the stands, silent as always, shouts of impatience could be heard: ‘Let’s go!, let’s go!’.
The silence. The chronicles say that, for the first time in an Olympics, the stadium did not applaud the entrance of the marathon winner, the Ethiopian Mamo Wolde. And it wasn’t out of dislike, but because it coincided with a Fosbury jump. And Jorge González Amo, middle-distance runner, participant of the 1,500m, recalls how on the morning of qualifying, spectators gathered around the corner of the stadium where the saltadero was located. “It was fantastic. They were the best Games”, says González Amo; “Modern athletics was born, the tartan track, the fiberglass poles, the foam mats to land after the jump, without which the Fosburys would have been impossible under pain of breaking your neck in sand, sawdust or serous pits, as they were before.”
The best thing about Fosbury’s style, his revolution, his approach to the bar, was that he allowed for much greater speed. “He opened up the high jump for a type of athlete that previously wasn’t worth it, for the very tall and thin ones”, says Arturo Ortiz, who still holds the national record (2.34m); “Before, when the ventral roller, when Valery Brumel was the myth, the prototype was an athlete with very powerful, very strong legs. You didn’t get as much speed with the last three steps to the crash. In all specialties of athletics the same maxim applies: the faster, the better. It’s him fosbury failure It lets you do everything faster.”
Ortiz has Fosbury’s image etched “into his cortex,” as does Beamon or the podium 200: Smith, Norman and John Carlos, fists raised, black glove, Jesse Owens. And he makes an exercise in abstraction, reduction, purification. “It’s exciting, something new under the sun,” he says; “He had the courage of geniuses, to let himself be carried away by intuition, to be the first to do it. Pioneer value. After Kandisky, it’s so easy to start painting on a blank canvas. Before, no one dared. That’s what happened to Fosbury.”
You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook It is twitteror register here to receive our weekly newsletter.