08 August 2012

Olympics and the Fosbury Flop

I get really sucked into the Olympics, and I had a great time watching the high jump last night. How the heck do you walk up to a bar that you can't even reach with your fingertips, and say to yourself, "I'm gonna get my feet over that"?

I found this video from the 1968 Olympics, where the Fosbury Flop made its international debut. Since every jumper now uses this technique it was really cool to see the variety of ways people used to clear the bar before this was developed. It's even cooler to see how one guy's ingenuity allowed him to dominate the competition.

You wonder how much of a vacuum he was working in. Does anybody have any information on other people trying similar techniques at the time? There are hints of it on Wikipedia but not much solid information, and an admittedly cursory search on the web doesn't reveal much. 

The technique actually lends itself to physics analysis for its clever use of the distribution of the jumper's weight. It's explained well here (maybe with a little too much physics). I also liked reading on Wikipedia about how the eponymous Fosbury had his first inkling about the technique in high school and kept developing it until it finally worked better than the prevailing styles of the time. Technology played a role, too: I realized (obviously, in retrospect) that high jumpers didn't always have nice, cushy foam pads to land on, so athletes before the 60s had to land on their feet or risk having very, very short careers.

I should mention that this post was inspired by the Museum's three-day event, Science at the Games (en français)! If I have somehow managed to collect some Ottawan readers, you should definitely come by. We have great sports demos going on and some really exciting guests, including Jean Labonté, a gold medalist Paralympian in sledge hockey!

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