Brand New

I went to the regional track and field meet today, featuring excellent athletes from Grades 4 to 8. I loved watching the contorted faces, the blurred legs, the raised arms and the bowed heads. It was a spectacular day on the high school field and I wanted to see all the events. The high jump competition was in the gym so I went inside to watch the action. The athletes soared and my heart lifted with them. It was such a graceful movement, approaching the bar from the side and throwing themselves backwards up and over.

And I remembered. It wasn’t always this version of grace. When I was a kid, we’d face the bar and try to throw our lead leg over. And then something new happened:

Dick Fosbury took a moment to meditate as 80,000 people looked down at him from their seats in Mexico City’s Olympic stadium. The fans at the 1968 Olympic Games didn’t know it at the time, but they were about to witness not only the setting of an Olympic record, but the complete revolution of a sport.

Like most schools in the 1960s, the landing pit at Fosbury’s high school was made of wood chips and sawdust. Before his junior year, however, Fosbury’s high school became one of the first to install a foam landing pit and that gave him a crazy idea.

What if, instead of jumping the conventional way with his face toward the bar [the scissor kick], Dick Fosbury turned his body, arched his back, and went over the bar backwards while landing on his neck and shoulders?

***

How did the high jump community react to Dick’s innovation? Initially with criticism: We’ve been doing it this way for decades. How dare you turn your back on history? Dick was referred to as an “aberration”, as “the world’s laziest high jumper”, and was described as “a fish flopping in a boat”. None of that fazed him.

Consider … the Fosbury Flop, an upside-down and backward leap over a high bar, an outright—an outrageous!—perversion of acceptable methods of jumping over obstacles. An absolute departure in form and technique. It was an insult to suggest, after all these aeons, that there had been a better way to get over a barrier all along. And if there were, it ought to have come from a coach, a professor of kinesiology, a biomechanic, not an Oregon teenager of middling jumping ability. In an act of spontaneity, or maybe rebellion, he created a style unto itself.

***

So dear friends, are we up for a perversion or two, a leap into the outrageous? Are we willing to bring something new into the world, whether or not IQ tests have said we’re really smart, whether or not we have “academic credentials”, whether or not we’re young, old, male, female, outgoing, shy, black, white, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian … anything!?

Let’s do it.

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