Remembering MSD Track & Field Legend
A Medford School District Track Legend passed away over the weekend. Dick Fosbury was a Roosevelt Elementary, Hedrick Middle School and Medford High School alumnus.
Bob Hjorten grew up with Dick Fosbury starting in elementary school.
“He was everybody’s friend,” Hjorten said, describing his longtime friend.
Fosbury wasn’t only everyone’s friend. He was a Gold Medal Olympian, a track legend and an innovator who created the so-called “Fosbury Flop.”
Hjorten learned the high jump alongside Fosbury in elementary school. In 5th and 6th grade, the two started participating in elementary track competitions on the field at Roosevelt Elementary School.
By high school, Hjorten said Fosbury really started developing his track skills. This is around the time the Medford School District brought in landing pads from the University of Oregon. North Medford High School Track & Field Coach Piet Voskes said, “That allowed Fosbury the confidence to begin to tinker with his method without a high risk of injury.”
Three years after graduating from Medford High School in 1965, Fosbury won a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics.
“I was in Vietnam when he won the gold medal. I heard about it when I was overseas. Everyone was so proud of him, to be able to do that!” Hjorten remembers.
During Fosbury’s Olympic debut, he set a new Olympic record when he showed off his back-first high jump on the national stage to many doubters.
“We have to remember he faced a great deal of criticism for his approach. Both in the media and amongst his own coaches. They didn't necessarily see it as breaking a mold, but as making a mockery of how you always high-jumped.” Voskes continued, “His ability to block out that criticism and to continue to work at a method we can all learn from.”
Now, 55 years later, the so-called ‘Fosbury Flop’ is a technique track athletes use all over the world.
Hjorten added, “And that’s how everyone high jumps now! That’s the most unbelievable part!”
“He's an inventor. No different than Hewlett-Packard working on something in their garage or Bill Bowerman improving running shoes. Spiegelberg stadium became his "garage" and he unveiled the method locally at the Grants Pass Rotary track meet,” said Voskes.
Fosbury was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1981. In 2018, a statue of his famous Fosbury Flop was unveiled at Oregon State University. Still today, athletes at his alma mater remember his legacy.
At Hedrick Middle School where Voskes teaches social studies and North Medford High School where he coaches track, Coach Voskes shares Fosbury’s story with students both in the classroom and on the field.
“Providing students a larger view of Dick Fosbury’s experience and examining him as an engineer rather than as an athlete, helps students process the tool that he created. That tool, a revolutionary high jump technique, had to be merged with an insatiable work ethic and a desire to be great. We want students to be inspired to find the inspiration to create.”
Hjorten saw Fosbury just last summer and said he was the “same old Dick Fosbury.”
“He was just a down to earth guy, never was brash about what he had done, a super nice guy and it never went to his head. He was a friend to everyone.”
Throughout his life, Fosbury devoted his energy to helping others.
“He was a Medford kid through and through,” Voskes said, “Every High Jumper is a bi-product of the Dick Fosbury approach.”
Fosbury died at 76 and is survived by his wife; his sister, Gail Fosbury; his son, Erich; his stepdaughters, Stephanie Thomas-Phipps and Kristin Thompson; and several grandchildren.