In 1963 at the Rotary Track meet in Oregon, a high school student began something that would change the sport of High Jump forever. Since the formation of the sport, high jumpers generally leaped over the bar feet-first but on this day in 1963 Dick Fosbury did something different.
He was an average high jumper on his high school track team and knew he had no chance of clearing the 5 feet 6 inch bar at this track meet by imitating the then standard scissor-style technique where one foot clears the bar after the other in a scissor like motion. In order to lift his hips above the bar, he ignored the prevailing standard and did what was natural to him. He moved his shoulders back as he approached the bar and jumped over it backwards. He cleared the bar that day and from then on began working on perfecting his new technique.
Fast-forward five years… Dick Fosbury introduced his unorthodox technique to the track and field world at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico where he won the gold medal. His technique of jumping backwards, known as the Fosbury Flop, is now the standard technique used by high jumpers.
On a Sunday evening on July 15, 1838 before the senior class of Divinity College, Ralph Waldo Emerson said the following:
“Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil. Friends enough you shall find who will hold up to your emulation Wesleys and Oberlins, Saints and Prophets. Thank God for these good men, but say, `I also am a man.’ Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it, because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man’s.”
We all benefit when each person gives expression and life to his individuality, whether it be in his work, speech, dress, or demeanor. Imitation of others is a debasement of the inimitable beauty which lies within every human being. As with Dick Fosbury, it might take years to refine and perfect one’s personal/natural style but this is time well spent because bringing forth the beauty unique to oneself is the only original contribution a man can make to his environment.