BRUNSWICK – What Dick Fosbury did some 40 years ago was so new, so revolutionary, it needed a name. It’s a back layout, said Fosbury initially, describing his unique approach to jumping over a high bar.

He got zero response. He didn’t think the sports writer even bothered to write down the words. Back layout? The phrase had no zip. It didn’t appear in the next day’s story.

“Being an engineering student, I was trying to be analytical,” said Fosbury. He remembered the caption under a photo of him in his local newspaper. When Fosbury was asked again, he had a better answer.

“People back home call it ‘the Fosbury Flop.’ ” This time, the media ate it up.

The man behind one of the more poetic descriptions in sports was at Bowdoin College Saturday night, talking to young male and female athletes. The Region One Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships for competitors 18 years old and younger from New England and metropolitan New York is being held this weekend at Whittier Field.

It’s been 42 years since Fosbury won a gold medal in the Mexico City Olympics. These were the Games of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists on the medal podium to salute black power and black pride. Bob Beamon leaped 29 feet, 21/2 inches to shatter the triple jump record by two feet and Al Oerter became the first to win four consecutive gold medals and set four Olympic records in the discus.

Fosbury’s gold wasn’t a feat. It was an accomplishment, forever changing the way men and women jumped over a bar, not just in the United States, but around the world.

While society at that time was full of so-called revolutionaries, Fosbury quietly became one in a sport that was beginning to drift away from America’s consciousness.

Instead of approaching the high bar with a jump that was called the straddle method, lifting one hip and then the other over the bar, Fosbury turned his back, led with his head, and kicked his legs over.

It’s exactly what 14-year-old Adele McVie was doing hours before Fosbury arrived on campus. Already tall and approaching 6 feet, McVie will be a freshman at North Yarmouth Academy. High jumping is one of her passions.

Did she recognize Fosbury’s name? Did she make the connection? Of course, she said, smiling.

Fosbury is 63 years old and a gift from decades ago keeps on giving. Others in track and field have helped in the sport’s evolution but few have so completely changed an event like the Fosbury Flop. Mitsuo Tsukahara’s name has been given to the vault he perfected onto the horse in gymnastics. Other skills in that sport and in figure skating have been named after those who first did them successfully.

None have been so enduring or so pervasive as the Fosbury Flop.

Fosbury understands his gift and his good fortune. Forty years ago the sudden notoriety was difficult. He sat with Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show” in New York City and Mike Douglas on his show in Philadelphia. He demonstrated the Fosbury Flop on a street outside the studio.

“Being on ‘The Dating Game’ was fun, but I had to get back to class.”

He grew up in Medford, Ore. He went to Oregon State. The differences between the Pacific Northwest and the gritty Northeast were strange.

“My coaches always prepared me how to become a better athlete. No one taught me how to become a celebrity. Part of my reaction was to withdraw from that.”

He didn’t have that moment in Mexico City that Joan Samuelson experienced, when she realized her life would change the moment she ran out of the coliseum tunnel in Los Angeles, the first female to win Olympic gold in the first women’s marathon.

“She was older when that happened, more mature,” said Fosbury. “I was still in the moment. I was so focused on just clearing the bar.”

That’s it, of course. In high school, he couldn’t get over that bar until he found a way. His way. More than 40 years later it’s still the way.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]