Fosbury, a quiet 23-year-old, did not defend his Olympic title in 1972 and later admitted struggling with his sudden stardom. But his unique contribution to the sport was celebrated on Tuesday when it was announced he had died of cancer at the age of 76.
It says something about Fosbury’s legacy that his revolutionary style remains one of the things that set it apart from the incredible 1968 Olympics.
In the same two weeks, John Carlos and Tommie Smith (alongside Australia’s Peter Norman) held up their gloved fists to protest racism, George Foreman won a gold medal in boxing, Bob Beamon set a record in the long jump that stood for 23 years and the first was Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall was caught in doping tests for illegally drinking two beers before the pistol shooting.
Peckham, who finished sixth in Mexico, said Fosbury’s revolutionary style was made possible by improving the safety of the high jump landing zones through the introduction of thick padding.
Previously the boxes were easy and jumping backwards was not considered given the danger.
(As he experimented with his style in America, Fosbury compressed several vertebrae.)
“We walked through sand, sawdust, wood shavings, jute sacks full of rubber shavings. Even at the 1964 Olympics, the pit was really just a pile of dirt with pieces of foam rubber sticking out,” Peckham said.
On his father’s advice, Peckham had been using the slide tackle since he and his buddies tried street jumping as a 10-year-old, copying the athletes at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
“We did the old scissors over the jump but my dad encouraged me to roll over the bar. I started doing it entirely without a pit,” Peckham said.
Peckham competed in the first of his three Olympic Games as a teenager in 1964 and later became a ten-time national champion and won two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games.
But even after Fosbury won on the flop in 1968, he didn’t switch. Peckham stradled Fosbury in the 1969 Pacific Conference Games and admits he even thought the flop would not last.
“When it came in, I thought, ‘This is never going to take off.’ I even wrote a paper saying the straddle was always better. Totally wrong of course,” laughed Peckham.
“I thought about it [switching] but it was a very different event. I was about 6ft 3in tall and probably weighed 87kg. We used to lift huge weights and it was much more of a power event. Now it has become more of a speed event and a flexibility event.
“I did it at Interclub in Melbourne one day. I think I jumped 2.05m or so with a very, very bad flop. I could never have gone higher. I didn’t have that back flexibility.
“Same goes for my buddy [two-time Olympic high-jumper Tony] Sneazwell, he had a hunched back the whole time. We couldn’t have made it.”
At the 1972 Olympics, 28 of the 40 competitors used the Fosbury flop, but Peckham was among the remaining straddlemen, and so were all the medalists.
Jüri Tarmak of the Soviet Union won gold with the slide tackle in Munich, but he would be last.
Fosbury had not qualified to defend his Olympic title, but his name would live on nonetheless. By then he was already one of the most influential athletes in history.
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https://www.smh.com.au/sport/athletics/just-amazement-the-aussie-champ-who-competed-against-fosbury-and-his-famous-flop-20230314-p5cs0y.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_sport Australian high jumper Lawrie Peckham recalls competing against the inventor of the famous “flop”.