Dick Fosbury revolutionized a sport you’ve probably never watched: the high jump. He struggled with other things along the way:
Maybe there comes a time in every kid’s life when he confronts his mediocrity and submits to the tyranny of normality. A life without expression: just another guy, not a single trait or talent to mark him in a crowd. Fosbury, all of 15 now, wasn’t there yet. He hadn’t been crushed. On a 25-mile bus trip to Grants Pass, Ore., for a rotary meet with a dozen schools, he stared out the window and decided he was going to do whatever it took, make one last jump. If he finished the year at 5’4″, the same as he jumped in ninth grade, he was done, doomed to a third-string life…
Dick Fosbury was the perfect, maybe the only, vehicle for innovation when it came to the high jump. All athletes recognize a performance imperative, a drive to exceed their limits, to explore upper boundaries. It’s why they train and tweak. But Fosbury had the additional impetus of being a teenager. There is no swifter, more terrible saber-toothed tiger than the ritual humiliation of adolescence. He felt that animal’s breath on his neck every day, and he felt it more keenly than his peers: He had picked the one sport that might return the favor of his determination but had gotten embarrassment instead.
The first half of this SI profile is full of good nuggets. Then it weirdly tapers off in purple nonsense. Enjoy, and stop when you get bored.