Every time I think it is time to drop my subscription to Sports Illustrated, a story like this week’s feature on Dick Fosbury pulls me back. I’ll get back to Sports Illustrated shortly. For now, here’s to Dick Fosbury.
Without the photo at right, most would be thinking, “Fosbury? Where do I know that name?” Eventually, it would come to you. Dick Fosbury invented the Fosbury Flop, a high jump revolution. Today every young high jumper in the world does “the Flop.” In the mid to late 60’s the sites of Fosbury going over the bar head first, his back arched and finishing with a kick of the legs was a site somewhat beyond belief. Fosbury won the 1968 Olympic high jump event, jumped for another year and retired having changed the event forever.
The chance to see Fosbury jump was too much to pass up when I was a senior in high school. Ron Torrence and I jumped in my Volkswagen and drove to Des Moines for the Drake Relays in late April 1969. Working our way as close to the pit as we could, we sat in wonder taking in each of Fosbury’s jumps.
That night, in a Holiday Inn in Des Moines, we stacked our luggage and began “flopping” over the cases into one of the beds. When that wasn’t high enough, we used cushions off the chairs and anything else needed to get some height for our jumps. The noise from our second floor room certainly didn’t please those below us.
Neither of us could really jump a lick. That didn’t stop us from lifting off over and over again. By the end of the evening our backs were bruised, our legs scraped. We were worn out from laughing so hard at the site of each effort. That night lives on as one of my favorite in life. Somehow that very scene was replicated in a San Antonio hotel room in 2001 with my wife and I flopping once again over luggage, cushions and trashcans laughing just as hard at the sheer joy a jump like that brings.
The Sports Illustrated story was an excerpt from a new book “Something in the Air” by Richard Hoffer. The book details the Mexico City Olympics, surely one of the most thrilling, confusing and controversial Games ever. It will be a must read.
Such stories used to be regular features in Sports Illustrated. As much as I have always enjoyed the wonderful photographs in the magazine, my initial interest stemmed from the great writing found along with those photographs. Nothing beat their long, thoughtful stories called “bonus pieces” that ran in the later pages of the magazine each week.
Today, Sports Illustrated is nothing more than People magazine with a sports theme. Stories longer than one page are rare. Every thing is a quick hit to satisfy the short attention spans of today’s sports fan and our society as a whole. The profound writing that enlightened and informed with rich detail is now almost lost.
My subscription to Sports Illustrated began in April of 1964, a birthday gift. The first issue that arrived at our home had a cover with four female Texas relay runners. While their running skills helped them set records, the photograph showcased the four white women – a sign of the times – in complete makeup with their hair carefully quaffed. My mother’s reaction, “Did we subscribe to a sports magazine or a girly magazine?”
I kept every issue neatly stored in boxes in our basement. Even when I moved away from home, the magazine collection continued to grow along with every issue of Rolling Stone. Finally, in 1979 when I moved to Arizona, it was time to stop. Both collections brought sizable sums of cash from a downtown magazine dealer.
Life moves on, the world of journalism has changed so dramatically. I no longer am a true journalist, which does pain me. Thinking back is great fun, but I still look forward to the future. I still believe good writing and great photography will find their footing again and lead to a revolution in journalism, even something like we saw from Dick Fosbury in the high jump.
For now, just remembering Fosbury’s jumps in Iowa and the fun in two hotel rooms trying to duplicate them brings a big smile to my face.