I have always associated what I experienced that afternoon in the Olympic stadium in Mexico with a comment that, years later and referring to other issues, I heard the publicist Lluis Bassats: "Can you imagine a product that is not only novel, but that ends with the competition at a stroke? ". That product has existed and I saw it in front of me for more than three hours. His name was Dick Fosbury and we hardly heard from him. Weeks before the Olympic Games, they had shown me some of their images in a moviola. They were intriguing to me, but I did not understand the scope of their revolution until October 19, 1968, date of the final of the high jump.
I had seen him from a distance the day before, during the qualifying round. We had not coincided in the series. He was a tall jumper – 1.92m – skinny and extravagant. He was not like any of us, or anyone we had news of. He was jumping with his back to the bar, a formula that had allowed him some success in the United States, where he had won the university championship. There was no talk, however, of Fosbury as a favorite, or perhaps we refused to believe that this eccentric was going to defeat the Orthodox of the ventral roller.
The high jump had been developed through various techniques. The ventral roller was so hegemonic in our time that nothing new was suspected on the horizon. The best was the Soviet Valeri Brumel, who held the world record (2.28 meters) since 1963. He was a living legend and a clock in every jump. It never decomposed. He seemed insurmountable in all aspects: physically, technically and mentally. We all admired its mechanics, but Brumel could not go to the Mexico Games. He never recovered from the serious motorcycle accident he suffered in 1965.
Much of our work was mediated by the conditions of the runway, which until Mexico 68 were land, and especially by the fall pit. Fosbury would have been impossible without the large and soft mattress we enjoyed in Mexico. Four years before, at the Tokyo Games, our pit was made up of sand and cork shavings. It took a considerable amount of courage to fall headfirst into that surface. On his back it was an invitation to break his chin.
I spent a night of nerves before the final. Although I had beaten the record of Spain in the qualifying series, with 2.12 meters, the adductor did not stop bothering me. It was a pleasant day, without wind. It was the last day of the most supernatural week in the history of athletics. One day before our final, I witnessed Beamon's jump in the stadium and I thought nothing could surpass that ceiling. I did not notice Dick Fosbury.
I felt an overwhelming emotion when the speaker announced the finalists. They put me between two Americans – Carruthers and Fosbury – and two Soviets – Gavrilov and Skvortsov. It is a picture that I do not have and the one I would most like to have in this life. My favorite was Gavrilov, an elegant jumper with perfect technique. He was labeled as Brumel's successor. Carruthers was a physical marvel, but an irregular competitor. From the other Russian, Skvortsov always considered that he had exceeded expectations.
Fosbury was the mystery of the afternoon. He revealed it right away. He started jumping with tremendous security. I sensed in him a phenomenal competitive ferocity. I was there to win, whatever the height. In those matters he recognized me in the American: victory before the record. He managed the competition with such an evident certainty that my bet on Gavrílov – he would finish third with 2,20m – started to break. Everything in Fosbury invited to observe him. In the routine of concentration prior to the jumps, he made some very strange sounds, while he waved back and forth, in a trance. The spectators came from the other areas of the stadium to enjoy that eccentric that was not a joke. "Ándele, gringo!" They shouted at every attempt.
I chatted briefly with Thomas Zacharias, son of the mythical German violinist Helmut Zacharias, and the Italian Crosa, sixth in the final. "This is incredible," said Zacharias. There were people who considered Fosbury an anecdote without further travel. We knew that we were witnessing a revolution live. It was less about the victory of Fosbury than about the collapse of the empire of the ventral roller. Managed the competition as wanted, without giving hope to anyone. He did not show the slightest fissure. He jumped the same 2.09m – my mark in the final – that 2.18 or 2.24m, the height that allowed him to win the gold. That day, Dick Fosbury, a 21-year-old kid, revealed himself as much more than a successful novelty: it was the product that ended the competition forever. When the final was over, I went over to congratulate him. "We'll talk," he said very kindly. We did not. We never saw each other again.
Luis Garriga participated in the Games of 1964 and 1968, and in the latter was a finalist in high jump. He was mayor of Borja (Zaragoza) between 1995 and 2007.