The voices that rise up asserting that winning is the only thing that matters and that no one remembers those who are not champions not only lie: they also ignore the countless cases that contradict the concept in the history of sports.
Many of the people mentioned in these lines have either not always been champions (no one has) or have lost almost as many times as they have won. That doesn’t mean that they can not be considered icons of their disciplines. These are extraordinary figures who, above or in addition to their successes, have left a unique mark that their successors in the 21st century continue to travel through today.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won several NBA rings and until recently held the record for the most goals scored in one of the most famous sports leagues on the planet. A multi-winner, much of the basketball universe associates it with the concept of the sky-hook, a shot that seems to be executed from top to bottom towards the hoop -it’s just a figure- that seems as simple as it is unattainable for its rivals. In reality, Kareem was the one who sublimated a technical gesture that, they say, was born with Pranas Tazunas, a member of the Lithuanian Eurobasket champion team in 1937 and who would have reached the North American university leagues thanks to the legendary George Mikan, who shone at DePaul University before doing so in the Minnesota Lakers. Anyway, Kareem is synonymous with skyhook, and vice versa.
The French press often remembers Yannick Noah, 1983 Roland Garros champion, every time a tennis player executes a surprise shot between the legs and from the back to the net. However, as early as the early ‘70s, a notable Argentine tennis player, champion of the Masters and the French, Australian and United States Open, used to execute that magic shot with remarkable certainty and frequency. In addition to the craftsmanship, shooting has a high dose of surprise factor: the rival can never anticipate where or how that shot will be executed. In much of the world of rackets, that shot is called Gran Willy, precisely, in honor of Vilas.
Artistic gymnastics gave formal direction to this type of uniqueness. Always responding to a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the movement, several athletes have given their last name to unique technical gestures that many colleagues practice regularly.
There are Amanar (by the Romanian Simona Amanar) and Dragulescu, her compatriot who shone in the jumping test.
There are the Silivas (Daniela, Romanian, on the ground, double mortal with a double pirouette in a grouped position) and the Onodi, by Henrieta who did magic on the always cruel and exciting exercise of the beam.
But, above all, a Russian, Natalia Yurchenko, and a Japanese Mitsuo Tsukahara installed types of easel entry in the jumping competition that are those chosen by any self-respecting champion.
These two would probably be the closest cases to that of Dick Fosbury, the legendary Olympic high jump champion in Mexico 1968, who died last week.
Fosbury came to those games as a North American university champion. Despite this, most analysts and rivals considered his technique of jumping backwards between snobby and ridiculous. Except for him, all other competitors used the ventral roller technique, which had become popular in the mid-’50s. As in so many cases, his victory, including the Olympic record, caused the same detractors to bow their heads; some, wisely, began to wonder what technical advantage that movement would bring, or if it would only be effective on Fosbury’s legs and head.
The conclusions were overwhelming.
In Munich, 4 years later, 28 of the 40 participants used Dick’s technique, called Flop.
In Moscow 1980, 13 of the 16 finalists did so.
And between 1972 and today, 54 of the 56 medalists did it.
Fosbury didn’t just review concepts of jumping technique. On the one hand, it was also striking that he was wearing a right shoe from a different pair of the left one, in this case characterized by the fact that one was white and the other blue. Today the story is very clear: the race to the mattress ends up stepping on just one foot, which would justify thinking about wear and even a flexibility of footwear that is different from the other.
On the other hand, the fact that the jumper fell on his back, sometimes hitting him with his neck, ended the idea that the high jump could end in a sandbox.
Legend has it that there are photos of a jump similar to and before that of Fosbury performed by a certain Bruce Quende.
Even if he hadn’t been the pioneer, no one can take away from Fosbury the credit of forever changing such a popular discipline.
Never in history has a One Hit Wonder changed things so much... forever.