Medford icon Fosbury makes leap into political arena

BOISE, Idaho — Dick Fosbury, the Medford Senior High School graduate and Olympic track and field champion whose name defines the modern high jump, has launched a run for the Idaho House of Representatives.

After a post-Olympic career in engineering, Fosbury said he aims to help boost Idaho's economy out of what he calls "the doldrums."

Still, facing off as a Democrat against a Republican incumbent in deeply conservative Idaho, Fosbury acknowledges the risk he runs with puns.

Headline writers may already be readying their keyboards.

"Fosbury Flops."

"I understand the risk," Fosbury said, chuckling during a interview from Ketchum, his home in central Idaho. "I have a good sense of humor. I'm healthy. I can handle it."

The man behind the Fosbury Flop — instead of rolling frontwards over the bar or using a scissor-kick, he revolutionized the discipline by leaping over it backward to take gold in Mexico City in 1968 — aims to run against Republican Rep. Steve Miller, from Fairfield.

Fosbury, 67, was a Medford Senior High School student when he unveiled the Fosbury Flop in 1963. The athlete began tinkering with his traditional scissors technique in an attempt to better his jump, eventually coming up with a new jump in which he rolled over the bar backwards and head first.

On a spring day in 1963 at the Grants Pass Rotary meet, Fosbury cleared 5 feet 10 inches with his new technique, 6 inches higher than his previous best.

Before Fosbury retired, he won three Pacific-8 championships for Oregon State University, two NCAA titles and a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where he cleared 7 feet 41/2 inches.

Fosbury, who has lived in Idaho for nearly four decades, is now retired, but still travels the world as an Olympic ambassador, including a trip soon to Paris to give a speech. He's a member of the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame, after setting what were then Olympic and American records.

Miller, a farmer, rancher, businessman, former county commissioner and part-time school teacher during slow winters at his home on Idaho's Camas Prairie, acknowledges he didn't really recognize Fosbury's name until earlier this month, when somebody told him he'd likely have a general election opponent next November.

Miller, 64, graduated from high school in Idaho in 1968, the same year Fosbury was turning heads in Mexico City with his new-fangled style of hopping over the bar. "I didn't watch the Olympics much at that time," he concedes.

For the record, Miller says he also tried the high jump — scissor style, he recalls, during his freshman year of high school — only to abandon it for the 200-meter and 800-meter runs.

But the Republican lawmaker cleared a pretty high bar in 2012.

That's when he bested his Democratic rival in District 26, which includes the posh resort cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum in Blaine County, as well as more rural areas to the south. Democrats had long held the seat, but Miller hopes to repeat his performance against Fosbury in 10 months.

"The conservation background, the agriculture background, it all helped," Miller said, on the secret to his success. "You just go to every event, talk to the people, see what they care the most about."

Fosbury, who has been the city engineer for Ketchum and Sun Valley and helped develop his region's recreational trail system along the former Union Pacific railroad line, acknowledges his athletic success opened doors for him over his lifetime. But trading the Olympic stage for the Idaho Capitol steps? He says he's ready.

"I've lived here in Idaho over half my life, I love this state," Fosbury said. "And I hope to make a contribution. I intend to try and make things better."

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