Synopsis: Media experts were certain that the traditionally weakest months of the year for stocks would again slow down investors. But some traditions, like world records, were meant to be broken.
The freshman took a deep breath and then launched himself forward. Speed, he thought, be fast. At a dead sprint, he planted his right foot, turned his shoulders from the padded landing area, and arched his back. Soar, he thought, be weightless. The rest of the Oregon State track team winced. Someone giggled at the ridiculous spectacle as the young kid’s legs spasmed upward when it seemed he’d collide and topple either the cross bar or the entire structure it rested on. Then, with a slapping sound he hit the padded mat like a wet noodle and glanced upward. The bar still rested on the standards where it was braced.
“Fosbury! Fosbury, what in the hell was that?” Coach Berny Wagner stood with his hands on his hips and his face contorted in a sort of perturbed astonishment.
“Coach?” asked his young freshman high jumper.
“Yes, I am the coach.” Wagner barked. “At least until someone sees you trying that ridiculous high jump experiment of yours and fires me for putting you in danger, or merely having bad taste.”
“But I’ve been using it since high school and I think it works. I think I’m jumping higher.”
“Son, this isn’t Medford High School. You think there is some shortcut to competing in the Pacific Ten Conference? The only shortcut you found is one to mediocrity. Plan A is to use the established techniques to avoid killing yourself. There is no Plan B. And there is no turning your back to the bar. My word son, that had all the athletic grace of a fish falling into a boat. Can you even imagine what the kind folks at the University of Oregon would say if you did that at a meet? You’d be laughed out of the stadium. And me with you!”
“Yes sir,” mumbled Fosbury and shuffled off to try again with a more traditional technique.
An hour later, the freshman had come nowhere close to the six-and-a-half-foot bar he’d been practicing with using his own method. Wagner ambled over to the high jump pit with a look that was hard to figure. “Ah,” he began awkwardly. “Fosbury, we need to talk.”
“Sure coach? What’s up?”
“Well…you are. We did some newfangled video analysis stuff on your jumps and, well, you weren’t just barely clearing the six and half foot bar with your…flop thing.”
“No. Your last jump, best we can tell, you cleared it by a few inches.” Coach Berny Wagner was convinced. “So, this is the end of Plan A. Got it? Plan B is now in full effect. Keep flopping, Fosbury, and we will both hopefully live with the consequences.”
Dick Fosbury survived and thrived. The next year, as a sophomore, he cleared six feet ten inches to set the Oregon State University record. As news of the technique got out, athletic experts said it looked ugly, ungainly or like someone slipping off the back of a truck in a rainstorm. But Fosbury kept soaring higher. The experts doubled down on their critiques, thinking he was insane and fearing that the consequences of his style could be disastrous. Such a corkscrew motion at full speed would lead to misfortune, and they envisioned an entire generation of participants "wiped out" due to debilitating injuries. Anyone following this Fosbury fellow was obviously a fool.
Then, at the Mexico City Olympics on October 20th, 1968, medical teams stood by, ready for the worst when the American with the new jumping style toed the start line. The crowd of 86,000 at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario held a collective breath. White shorts flapping in the thin Mexico City air, his blue clad torso emblazoned with USA in block letters, Fosbury soared over the bar at over seven feet and four inches. It was easy to see who had the last laugh on his way to collect his gold medal. The story of the Fosbury Flop is about one man ignoring the noise and the criticism to find a better way onward and upward. Within a few years his soaring technique had become commonplace. Since 1980, no one using any other method has held the world record in the high jump.
But isn’t it also the tale of experts losing their impartiality and getting carried away in their critiques of a young student athlete with a novel idea? Experts can be indifferent and unkind, especially when they believe their own ideas with such fervor that anyone disagreeing is seen as having questionable motives or intelligence. But for all the vehemence, experts can ultimately be wrong. Sometimes spectacularly so.
Take for instance the calls for blood entering the third quarter of this year. News media were full of warnings about an imminent correction in the stock market (if not an outright flop) pointing out that September and October are traditionally the weakest months of the year for stocks. The smart money was getting ready for the worst, they assured us. Instead, markets like the S&P 500 soared around 4% over since the beginning of September. Markets buck traditions too. And it is only those who listen too much to the media ‘experts’ that end up perturbed and astonished.
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