My name is Leonardo Federico

I work on growth operations at Cloud Academy a great place where you get to play with all kinds of amazing cloud computing technologies. Over the years I created several fun projects. I also love chess, reading and writing.

What Dick Fosbury can teach us about Progress

April 16, 2017


Back in 2011 I read a story about a certain guy that I never heard of before. That guy was a high jumper and his name was Richard Fosbury. That story was the best story I've read in 2011.

Richard Douglas Fosbury is a retired, olympic gold-medal winner. What impressed me, tough, wasn't the fact that he won an olympic gold medal, but how he won that award.

Before we go deep into the how, we have to take quite a huge step back, and see what looked like the high-jump when it was created.

The first recorded high jump event took place in Scotland in the 19th century. This is were humans for the first time in history faced this discipline. They had a problem to solve and they solved that problem in the most intuitive way.

So they invented the scissor technique.

The run-up in the scissors approach is a straight line at 30 to 50 degrees to the bar, jumping over the lowest point of the bar which is usually the centre. This happeard to be the most natural way to solve this problem.

After a few years they refined that technique and created the Eastern cut-off.

It was a variant of the "scissors" but it involved a layout. This enabled the jumper to clear a higher bar than with the traditional scissors style, while still landing on the feet.

The eastern cut-off continued to be competitive until the Olympics Games in 1936. At the Berlin Olympics Games in 1936 the eastern cut-off style evoluted in the "The Western Roll".

The Western Roll lasted for about 10 years before it was consolidated in the Straddle. The straddle became very quick the the most adopted technique.

The teqnuique that humans used to solve the problem naturally evolved over the course of two centuries. The path that humans did is very clear and well defined and you can explain very easy the reasons why they did that.

They found a rudimentary solution and improved it steadily year after year, millimeters after millimeter. After 150 years this what looked like the the record timeline.

That was a perfect world where humans, like ants, where piling up pebble after pebble.

Until something happend in the Olympic Summer Games of 1968 in Albuquerque. This is where, Dick Fosubry, a 21 years old US high-jumper from Portland Oregon comes in. He was not a top-talented high-jumper. Before the summer of 1968 he hadn't won any special prize and after that Olympic edition he finished his career coaching of small teams in his original town.

But here's the thing! He wasn't genius but he was crazy enough to think what nobody else ever thought before. He thought that he could jump higher, jumping upside down. He demonstrated that the most counterintuitive thing was the most efficient and in a single say he blew away everything was done before.

Now you live in 2017 it might seem normal to you seeing athletes jumping that way but back in October 1968 that was pure nonsense. Do you want to have a similar taste of what someone might had felt when Fosbory did that jump? Think of you at the next Tokyo Olympics watching a regular guy winning the 300m steeplechase running backwards. Odd, isn't?

We're used to define progress as a natural developement of the present. Fosbury demonstrated that this is not correct, progress comes as a tear of the present.

This is how the record timeline changed after the Fosbury flop was invented and widely adopted.