Wednesday 22 November 2017

Ryan owes career highs to Fosbury's leap of faith

Sean Diffley

Last weekend high jumper Deirdre Ryan cleared 1.90m (6ft 3ins), which is just three centimetres less than her Irish record of last year.

It was a classic example of how track and field has developed in just a few decades.

The late Brendan O'Reilly, Ireland's best high jumper, had a best of 6ft 5ins as his Irish record, while his highest recorded jump -- 6ft 7ins --came when on a sports scholarship to Michigan University.

The rise in standards has evolved as a result of two revolutionary developments -- the Fosbury Flop and the soft, comfortable landing area.

In O'Reilly's day you had to ensure you landed on both feet in a shallow sandpit or risk physical damage. The jumpers invariably used the so-called 'scissors' style of clearing the bar.

In 1968 at the Mexico Olympics, sitting in the press seats about 20 yards from the high jump, I had the perfect advantage of seeing the Flop make its debut.

American Dick Fosbury approached the bar at great speed and took off with his left leg. But, contrary to the conventional style, Fosbury did not follow with the right leg. Instead he swung it back and went head first with his back to the bar.

Fosbury cleared every height up to 7ft 3¼ins and eventually took the gold and an Olympic Games record with a 7ft 4¼ins leap.

Since then all the Olympians use the Fosbury Flop.

It so happens that the very first world record in the high jump was set in Trinity's College Park on July 7, 1873, with Tom Davin from Carrick-on-Suir jumping 5ft 10¼ins.

This was at the Irish Champion Club's Irish championships.

Two years later, after the ICC had leased Lansdowne Road, Tom became the only amateur athlete ever to set records in both high and long jump.

And his brother Maurice, who was to become the first president of the GAA in 1884, won the hammer and the shot in the first ever inter-nation athletics match -- Ireland v England -- at Lansdowne Road in 1876.

And Michael Cusack, whose interest in rugby is well known, was also a prominent athlete.

He competed at Lansdowne, winning the shot putt in 1881 and finishing second in the shot and the 42lbs weight in 1882.

There is a historical myth that Cusack founded the football organisation that entices us to Croke Park. However, when he convened that meeting in Thurles in 1884, athletics was the Irish national sport, and those who assembled in Hayes Hotel were, like Maurice Davin and Cusack primarily concerned with athletics.

Cusack was intrigued with hurling, but there are no signs that he was a devotee of Gaelic football, a sport very much in its infancy in those days.

His main aim was to outdo the Irish Amateur Athletic Association, which was subservient to the British AAA, and promote Irish culture instead.

That was what the meeting in Thurles was about.

Irish Independent

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