Death of Dick Fosbury: these athletes who revolutionized their sport

A jump on the back, a squat start, new figures on ice skates or a ball taken from the heel. Some athletes have dared to explore new techniques to radically change their sport. Others have, by the magic of a single gesture, succeeded in associating their name with their discipline.

► High jump: higher but on the back

The American Dick Fosbury, who died on Sunday March 12 at the age of 76, entered the legend of sport by imposing, alone and against all, his very particular technique in the high jump. When all the athletes cross the bar on their stomachs, or scissor with their legs, he experiments, refines the back jump.

At a time when the reception is done in a sandbox or on chips, and not on a thick carpet of moss, the arrival is sometimes painful. But the results are there. From 1963, Dick Fosbury noticed that jumping on the back allowed him to exceed his previous limits. Despite the teasing, he perseveres. And, with his revolutionary technique, snatched gold at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, offering himself the added bonus of a new Olympic record at 2.24 m.

Four years later, at the 1972 Olympic Games, it was a Russian athlete adept at old techniques who won the high jump. But this will be the last time. Since then, the Fosbury has established itself everywhere, used by everyone, at the Olympics and in sports lessons at school.

► Ski jumping, the “V” for victory

The Swede Jan Boklöv also first made all purists wince in his discipline, ski jumping. Born in 1966, he was the first, at the end of the 1980s, to use the “V” jump technique during certain competitions, with his skis apart and his body leaning forward.

In a discipline where part of the result depends on the judgment of the judges, the beginnings were difficult for Jan Boklöv. It goes far but the judges mark it harshly before taking their side of this new style. If he never shone during the Olympics in which he participated (in 1988 in Calgary, Canada, then in 1992 in Albertville), the Swedish jumper was however winner of the World Cup in 1989.

During this time, this technique is gradually imposing itself on all the springboards. It generalizes when it becomes clear that it increases lift. Enough to allow jumpers to “fly” further than with the classic position where the skis remain parallel.

► Sprint: squat to better jump

In sprint races, athletes have long started standing. Thomas Burke was the first to adopt the squatting position during a major official competition. With resounding success. In 1896, the American sprinter imposed himself with his funny start in the 100m at the Athens Olympics, the first Games of the modern era. He even achieved a double by also winning the gold medal in the 400 meters.

The posture will obviously be a school. Half a century later, on the occasion of the London Olympics in 1948, the installation of the starting blocks will formalize the crouching start, hands on the ground, which is now the rule for all races over distances less than 800m.

► Skating: new features galore

Skating is undoubtedly the discipline where the names of former champions most often come up in current competitions. Indeed, many figures practiced today bear the name of those who were the first to imagine them or to achieve them.

Thus, the famous “axel » owes its name to the Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen. This one succeeds for the first time the figure which made him famous during a world championship organized in Vienna, in 1882. Same thing for the “lutz”, invented in 1913 by the Austrian skater Alois Lutz.

► Football: legendary gestures

Alongside the great monuments of the round ball (from Pelé to Maradona), some players have managed to find a place for themselves in the vocabulary of sport, leaving their names to gestures that have remained in the memories, failing to have revolutionized the discipline.

This is the case of the Czechoslovak player Antonin Panenka, who has become famous for a way of taking penalties that can seem casual, right in the middle of the goal, betting on the fact that the goalkeeper will go from one side.

After having practiced this technique in training, then during matches without major stakes, Antonin Panenka had dared to put it into practice during the penalty shootout for the final of the European Cup of Nations against Germany. Successful, this “panenka” offered victory to Czechoslovakia and propelled its author into legend.

Rabah Madjer, an Algerian player, also gave his name to an unorthodox way of scoring. In the 1987 European Cup final, the FC Porto striker found himself with his back to goal and then kicked the ball… with his heel. A gesture that took the Bayern Munich goalkeeper completely by surprise and put the “madjer” in the football dictionary.


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