Winning an Olympic gold medal comes with its own notoriety. When you break the Olympic record and do so in a totally unconventional way, the notoriety is exponential. Fosbury’s sport was the high jump. His innovation, known today as the Fosbury Flop, was to go over the bar backwards, head-first, curving his body over and kicking his legs up in the air at the end of the jump, landing on his back. It was awkward looking. Maybe it even looked impossible, but it worked. Fosbury cleared 7 feet 4 ½ inches in Mexico City for a new Olympic record.
So, why hadn’t jumpers tried this before? Well, someone has to be first. Also, for decades preceding Fosbury’s innovation a jump like that would have been dangerous, almost guaranteeing injury. What made it possible in Fosbury’s time was the wide-spread use of thick foam pads as a landing site. Prior to that jumpers were landing in sawdust or wood chips.