The Fosbury Flop and Raising the Bar for Gold

Watching the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, I have been struck over and over again by the way these games intersect with our everyday lives in the workplace and in our communities. Chief among these, of course, are the important conversations taking place about mental health and self-care, and the disproportionate pressure placed on female athletes of color to perform no matter what. But there are other connection points for us too. Even the branding of “Tokyo 2020” in 2021, while largely pragmatic in nature, authorizes a redemption of sorts that we might do well to reflect on: What seemingly-lost aspect of 2020 might you redeem in your team? The number of personal bests that are set during the Olympic Games is incredible to see, and shows the value for an athlete of competing alongside others who are at a high level – using others around them to lift themselves to compete at their best. And of course, there are many examples of human frailty that might give us reason to have grace for others around us.

One event that has a lot to offer us is the High Jump, which has a fascinating history. The technique used by athletes to clear the bar has changed several times since its inception as a competitive event; each time, an athlete’s successful introduction of a new method has been – almost literally – game-changing, and led to a revolution in the sport in the years that followed. Initially, jumpers used the ‘scissors jump,’ which evolved around 1890 into the ‘Eastern cut-off‘ – both of which lead off with the feet and enable feet-first landings on hard surfaces. Between 1912 and 1936, however, the world records were held by athletes using a different style, the ‘Western Roll,’ in which the jumper rolls over the bar and lands on three points – one foot and two hands. But the same day the 1936 world record was set using the Western Roll it was also matched by an athlete using a new method, the face-down ‘Straddle Technique,’ in which it became possible to clear a bar that is higher relative to the jumper’s center of mass. This became the primary technique until 1968, when American athlete Dick Fosbury stunned viewers of the Mexico City Olympics; the advent of foam landing pads allowed him to win gold by using a face-up technique which became known as the ‘Fosbury Flop.’ Using this technique, an athlete’s center of gravity stays below the bar, allowing jumpers to clear a higher bar. Ever since that day, the Fosbury Flop has become the dominant technique, with every high jump world record since 1972 using this method.

Beyond what we might learn from this history, High Jump also shows us – in the most visual way possible – the importance of the bar itself as a goal. When the bar is lower, the athlete’s jump is lower. As it is raised, the athlete’s jump is higher. Without the bar, no competitor would jump as high as they can with it. And then there was Sunday’s emotional and heart-warming ending to the Men’s High Jump final, in which Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi – who had both cleared 2.37m but couldn’t pass 2.39m – proposed the idea of forgoing a jump-off and instead sharing the gold; a heart-warming ending which gave Qatar its first ever gold medal.

So with all these stories and history, how is the High Jump relevant to our workplaces this week?

This Week’s Tip:

  1. In this new work reality we’re all, ask your team – and yourself – for your own ‘Fosbury Flop’ ideas. Consider what techniques and routines you use that it might be time to change. What paradigms might need a shift? Just as foam landing pads led to a change in jumping style, ask what might be possible now that wasn’t possible prior to the pandemic? Maybe your team members have ideas that would have seemed crazy in 2019 that might be exactly what your team needs in 2021.
  2. Ask what height you are setting the bar – for yourself and your team. What level of expectations do you have for yourself and your team? Is it a stretch? Is it reasonable for each person, given everyone’s unique strengths? Is this bar achievable on a regular basis? Or only at the height of competition? If your answers to these questions cause you to reflect, ask what you could try differently this week.
  3. Consider how you might “share the gold” this week. Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi set aside competition and thought outside the box to propose an idea that brought them – and their countries – joy and celebration. How are you competing with someone – at work or elsewhere – and how can you instead work together to set aside competition and find joy this week?

Try these tips out this week and let us know how it goes – we’d love to hear from you. If you have thoughts or questions, contact us or post in our Facebook group.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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